The Way I See It: Key County Administrative Gaps Narrowed

Categories:      News & Politics    Opinion
Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 at 6:24 AM

On Tuesday, March 11, Erie County Council approved four of the five administrative positions County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper requested. The four salaries approved were for the director of administration, director of the Erie County Department of Health, director for the Office of Children and Youth, and a newly formed position of IT Director. The fifth position, an administrative officer, was tabled because County Councilmembers said they want further evidence that the role is necessary.

These requests needed approval, because according to the county's personnel code, employees new to a position can receive a maximum of 4.2 percent above the starting salary for the position, but any salary higher than that requires County Council approval.

While the four positions were approved, in some cases the salaries were amended to a lower annual pay than what Dahlkemper had initially proposed. The director of administration position was approved at $70,000 – $15k lower than what was initially requested – and the salary for the IT Director was proposed at $94,994 but was approved only at $85k.

The salary proposed by Dahlkemper for the director of administration was $22,172 higher than budgeted for this year. However, according to Dahlkemper, directors of administration in other third-class Pennsylvania counties average about $102,000 in annual salary.

Some County Councilmembers wanted lower pay for these positions because they are public sector jobs – and councilmembers are listening to the demands of residents asking County Council to reject the proposals for this reason. However, I believe that many of us need to adjust our viewpoint on this issue. Just because it’s a public sector job, doesn’t mean it’s any less demanding or pertinent than a private sector position. In fact, oftentimes these roles have a more direct impact on our lives (via the government). Why wouldn’t we want to fill these positions with the highest caliber candidate – as such, a higher salary would create more incentive for the more experienced and/or knowledgeable candidate to apply, because these public sector positions would be as attractive as their private sector counterparts.

Overall, the public sector is actually filled with higher-skilled workers. The national statistics regarding qualifications show that the public sector has a much higher percentage of employees with at least a bachelor’s degree – 38 percent compared to 23 percent in the private sector in 2010.

Yet this remains a nationally continuous and heated issue, and there is much debate out there about who gets paid more – private or public workers. The truth is, the difference overall isn’t very much; however, a look at the different parts of the pay scale and the deviations are much more varied. Public sector pay is more bunched in the middle, while private sector pay is more unequal, lower at the low end and higher at the high end. That is why, if you count it one way – and take the mean – private sector pay looks higher. So, the truth is, they both – at varying levels – outperform each other.

We must keep in mind that by not offering competitive pay for those with degree level qualifications, the public sector could end up losing higher caliber graduates to the private sector – and there are certain roles that I believe are not worth compromising – including those that help to govern our day to day lives.

Building the right – and best – team can help propel our community forward, because the old adage – you get what you pay for – often does come to fruition.

Love? Hate? Agree? Disagree? I want to hear from you. Contact me at, and follow me on Twitter @rStyn. 

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