June 29, 2016

Mostly cloudy

State high court says no to raises

COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court last week denied Juvenile/Probate Judge John J. Lohn’s request to increase Juvenile Detention Center guards’ salaries, but granted his request to fund equipment at the center.

“(The Supreme Court) agreed with Judge Lohn on the equipment issue, but agreed with us on the salary request,” county Commissioner Steve Hambley said Monday.

In May, Lohn filed a request with the Supreme Court to compel the Medina County Board of Commissioners to appropriate reasonable and necessary funding for the probate and juvenile courts after commissioners denied his request to expand his budget by about $77,000 for raises for corrections officers and technology improvements.

On Christmas Eve, the Supreme Court ruled the salary portion of Lohn’s request was “unreasonable and unnecessary” because it was based on “legally and factually” inaccurate comparisons between Juvenile Detention Center employees and employees of the Medina County Sheriff’s Office, according to court records.

Lohn requested a $1 per hour raise for each of the 23 corrections officers at the Detention Center, part of a three- to five-year plan to make salaries of Detention Center employees comparable to Medina County Jail staff.

But the commissioners, did not appropriate funds for the raises — an approximately $64,000 request — and instead granted a 2.5 percent salary increase for Detention Center staff that was given to all county employees.

The commissioners also did not appropriate $12,800 for Detention Center equipment Lohn requested.

The Supreme Court found the Detention Center and jail salaries were not comparable because, unlike Detention Center employees, jail employees are unionized.

The court also found Lohn’s order was premised on an American Correctional Association report that used inaccurate figures for salaries at the jail. The report stated jail employees began at $17.40 per hour, when the figure is actually $16.17 per hour. Detention Center employees begin at $11.50 an hour.

“I respect the decision of the Supreme Court, and our Detention Center officers are hard workers and deserve better pay,” Lohn said Monday, declining to comment further.

The court also ruled against the salary increases because Lohn did not account for an additional 2.5 percent year-end bonus for juvenile corrections employees in December 2008. The bonus was not included in Lohn’s 2009 budget requests, which were made in November 2008.

The Supreme Court decision stated Lohn’s requests also were unreasonable due to the county’s “declining financial situation.”
In the beginning of 2009, countywide budget cuts forced the sheriff to lay off 18 employees, and unions at the Sheriff’s Office later voted to rescind a 3 percent salary increase to avoid more layoffs.

The Supreme Court ruled “the requested funding would have been inconsistent with decreases of 10 percent in the budgets of most county officials and agencies.”

The court did, however, rule that commissioners had a duty to appropriate requested funds for equipment for the Detention Center, which included a new computer server and backup, the replacement of two computers and a security camera.
Hambley said he was satisfied with the equipment ruling because commissioners were looking for what the funding would be used for specifically, rather than appropriating a general increase.

“What we were looking for is more detail on what the costs are,” he said.

Contact Lisa Hlavinka at (330) 721-4048 or lhlavinka@ohio.net.