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Blair has trouble filling job openings | News, Sports, Jobs

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County continues to have difficulty hiring and retaining staff because of low pay, two employees told the county salary board, which voted Wednesday on starting pay ranges for 15 vacant or soon-to-be vacant jobs.

The county has about 90 open positions, Human Resources Director Katherine Swigart said after the meeting.

“We’re not any different than any other employer,” Swigart said. “We all have job openings.”

United Mine Workers of America Local 2002 President Steffan Housum asked the salary board, which includes county commissioners Bruce Erb, Laura Burke and Amy Webster, to take another look at what the union proposed Tuesday to resolve stalled contract negotiations.

“There is a revolving door in this county,” Housum said. “We’re trying to fight for fair wages, equitable wages. … These are people’s lives we’re talking about.”

Chief Sheriff Deputy Christopher Tatar mentioned Tuesday’s “failed attempt” at the bargaining table to address a contract offer that Tatar described as “pathetic” for those in his office. Full-time deputies currently start at $15.38 an hour and under the first year of the proposed contract, the hourly rate is slated to increase by a few cents.

“You’re going to continue to lose employees, for the wages, not just in our office but also in several other offices in the courthouse and in the county,” Tatar said. “The perception among the employees is that you just really don’t care if they leave.”

Blair County has a long history of complaints about employee turnover, something the county took a step toward addressing in 2019 when it increased minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, as set by the state, to $10 per hour.

Subsequently, the county pursued completion of a job classification and pay study that led, in mid-2021, to adoption of a policy and pay scale. That resulted in a range of pay adjustments — for non-union personnel — from almost nothing to several thousand dollars.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the salary board set the following pay rates for vacant or soon-to-be vacant jobs affecting non-union positions:

— $10.53 an hour for a criminal case processor in the court administration office.

— $11.58 to $12.73 an hour for a jury coordinator in the court administration office.

— $15 an hour for a part-time assistant in the tax assessment office.

— $15.51 to $17.06 an hour for a coordinator in the tax claim office.

— $48,677 to $52,571 annually for a casework manager in the Children, Youth & Families office.

— $45,005 to $48,605 annually for a finance manager.

— $46,805 to $50,549 annually for a manager in the human resources office.

The salary board also approved the following pay rates for union positions, based on existing contracts:

— $10.50 an hour for an administrative support staff position at a district court office.

— $10.99 an hour for a correctional case manager at the prison.

— $11.02 an hour for a clerk typist/court aide in the Children, Youth & Families office.

— $11.56 an hour for a fiscal assistant in the Children, Youth & Families office.

— $14.42 an hour for a custodian.

— $16.42 an hour for an electrician.

— $17.20 an hour for an auto mechanic.

The board also voted 4-to-1 in favor of setting an hourly rate of $22.87 for a certified legal intern position in the district attorney’s office that is expected to be filled in early August by a law school graduate awaiting bar exam results.

District Attorney Pete Weeks questioned the need to set an hourly rate for the post. He said the person to be hired will be expected to handle a workload comparable to the attorneys in his office who typically work 60 to 70 hours a week.

Assistant district attorneys, based on their union contract, start at $45,000 annually. At $22.87 an hour, the certified legal intern would make $41,623 annually based on a 35-hour work week.

“This is not going to be a 35-hour week position,” Weeks told the salary board, stressing that at the proposed hourly rate, the county will be paying a certified legal intern more than it pays the assistant district attorneys.

“I want to be transparent with that,” Weeks said.

Controller AC Stickel and Human Resources Director Katherine Swigart said the certified legal intern must carry an hourly compensation rate since the person won’t have yet passed the bar. Stickel said that reflects the Fair Labor Standards Law and Swigart agreed.

Webster proposed lowering the hourly rate for the position, but Erb referenced $22.87 as the county’s base rate for an attorney.

Webster voted against creating the position while Erb, Stickel, Weeks and Burke voted in favor. Erb said the matter could be revisited again since the job isn’t scheduled to be filled until August.

Weeks said he proposed creating the certified legal intern position due to lack of applicants for assistant district attorneys.

“Other counties pay far more, and even they are not filling their openings,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.

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