Sunday, July 01, 2001

Officials at odds over pay raises

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — The Warren County commissioners have accused the local mental health agency of giving out large pay raises at a time when finances are limited.

        In a letter to Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren & Clinton Counties, commissioners demanded an explanation and threatened to withhold support for the agency's 1-mill tax levy this fall.

        “How do you ever hope to pass a levy in the future if you provide 30-percent pay increases at a time when your money is supposedly tight?” commissioners said in the letter, addressed to the agency's director, Bill Harper. Commssioners also cited “growing feelings of frustration” with the agency.

        “Unless we can be adequately convinced otherwise, it will be hard for this board to endorse any future levies proposed by your board.”

        Recovery Services, however, denied giving such hefty raises.

        Mr. Harper said a salary study that began in November has resulted in raises up to 19.7 percent — and that's for a secretary who will move from $9.10 an hour to $10.89 an hour when the fiscal year begins Sunday.

        “A major aspect of good-quality care is retaining good staff,” Mr. Harper said.

        Overall, salaries for his 11-member staff will rise 4.4 percent, he said. Six, including himself, will get no raise at all, he said. Mr. Harper's salary will remain at $89,981.

        The agency is responsible for helping those with severe mental, emotional and substance-abuse problems. Recovery Services by law can only pay for services, not provide them, so it hires private agencies.

        Five of those agencies took part in the $42,000 salary study along with Recovery Services, and that might be where the rumored 30-percent raises are coming.

        But the largest contracting agency, the Mental Health and Recovery Center of Warren County, said Friday it is not giving raises that large.

        “Some got zero; some got more,” said David Lorenz, the center's executive director. “We couldn't even pay the market rate — we could only go to 90 percent of it.”

        Recovery Services, which failed to sell voters on a replacement levy last fall, will ask for a 1-mill renewal levy in November. The current levy expires in December, agency spokeswoman Jenny Dexter said, and layoffs will be necessary if it's not renewed.


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