Pay hike approved for Westmoreland DA spokesperson, finance department – TribLIVE

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A monthslong search for a public information officer for Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli is nearly over after commissioners agreed to a 50% salary increase before the job is even filled.
The county’s salary board, which includes all three commissioners and Controller Jeff Balzer, approved raising the salary for the newly created spokesperson’s position to just over $75,000. The job was originally posted at $50,000 this summer but has gone unfilled for months.
Ziccarelli said she has made a hire for the job.
“I’m not ready to announce it yet,” Ziccarelli said. She said the higher salary is needed to attract a qualified person to take on the role of public information officer for her office. The employee will be loaned out to other county departments when needed.
The spokesperson will be among the highest paid employees in the district attorney’s office. Ziccarelli, whose salary is set by state law, earns more than $196,000. Twelve other attorneys and detectives in the office of more than 50 workers earn more than $75,000, according to county payroll records.
The county commissioners defended the pay raise.
“We also have to have a conversation with Nicole and her team to set this up formally. This is really to make sure she has the staff she needs for her office,” Commissioner Sean Kertes said.
Commissioner Doug Chew said the county will utilize the public information officer only when there is a “situation of complexity.”
Commissioner Gina Cerilli Thrasher said she signed off on the higher salary because Ziccarelli’s office was under budget.
Since taking office in January, Ziccarelli has lobbied for a public information officer to coordinate communications with the public and the media. Until now, Ziccarelli has handled all media questions and restricted her staff from making public comments.
Other raises OK’d
The salary increase was part of a package of personnel moves approved by the salary board this week, including raises handed out to members of the county’s finance department.
To facilitate the additional pay, commissioners increased the workday by 30 minutes for the department’s five employees. It results in salary hikes of about $5,000 for some and a bit less for others.
Finance Director Meghan McCandless will see a $4,500 pay hike and earn an annual salary of about $86,500.
The commissioners said the increases were appropriate because of the additional work required to process and account for large grants, such as the $105 million the county received in covid-relief assistance, more than $36 million in rental assistance funds and a $1.2 million election integrity grant received from the state this year to pay for election bureau operations.
The county also is slated to receive $22 million over the next 17 years as part of a national settlement of a lawsuit filed against drugmakers responsible for the opioid epidemic.
Meanwhile, the department is responsible for overseeing the county’s $352 million budget and the crafting of next year’s spending plan.
“All these grants are coming through and they’re doing extra work,” Kertes said. “This is the time we have to incentivize our people to make sure they want to stay here and show them we appreciate what they do.”
Thrasher said the pay hikes won’t increase county spending.
“We’re also abolishing a position for $45,000, so it is not costing us anything, ” Thrasher said.
Chew said he fully supports the pay hikes.
“This board of commissioners has more grants than previous boards, even outside of covid-related awards,”Chew said. “As we try to fund important programs without using property tax revenue, grants are becoming an important part of our revenue portfolio.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich by email at or via Twitter .
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