Pay rise approved for Westmoreland DA Spokesperson, Finance Department

A month-long search for a public information officer for Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli is nearing completion after commissioners agreed to a 50% pay rise before the position was even filled. .

The county’s salary board, which includes the three commissioners and comptroller Jeff Balzer, approved raising the salary of the newly created spokesperson position to just over $75,000. The position was originally posted at $50,000 this summer, but hasn’t been filled for months.

Ziccarelli said she made a hire for the job.

“I’m not ready to announce it yet,” Ziccarelli said. She said the higher salary was needed to attract a qualified person to take on the role of public information officer for her office. The employee will be loaned 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.

County commissioners defended the pay rise.

“We also need to have a conversation with Nicole and her team to formally put this in place. It’s really to make sure she has the staff she needs for her office,” Commissioner Sean Kertes said.

Commissioner Doug Chew said the county will only use the public information officer when there is a “complex situation.”

Commissioner Gina Cerilli Thrasher said she approved the higher salary because Ziccarelli’s office was under budget.

Since taking office in January, Ziccarelli has pushed for a public information officer to coordinate communications with the public and the media. So far, Ziccarelli has handled all media inquiries and has prohibited his staff from making public comments.

Other increases OK

The wage increase was part of a package of staff moves approved by the wage board this week, including increases given to members of the county’s finance department.

To facilitate the additional remuneration, the commissioners increased the working day of the five employees of the service by 30 minutes. This translates into salary increases of around $5,000 for some and a little less for others.

Chief Financial Officer Meghan McCandless will see a pay rise of $4,500 and earn an annual salary of around $86,500.

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 emergency funding. rental assistance and a $1.2 million election integrity grant. received from the state this year to pay for the operations of the electoral office.

The county is also set to receive $22 million over the next 17 years as part of a nationwide settlement of a lawsuit filed against the drugmakers responsible for the opioid epidemic.

Meanwhile, the department is responsible for overseeing the county’s $352 million budget and developing next year’s spending plan.

“All these grants are coming in and they’re doing extra work,” Kertes said. “This is the time when we have to inspire our employees to make sure they want to stay here and show them that we appreciate what they are doing.”

Thrasher said the salary increases will not increase county spending.

“We’re also eliminating a position for $45,000, so it’s costing us nothing,” Thrasher said.

Chew said he fully supports the salary increases.

“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 become an important part of our revenue portfolio.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Rich by email at or via Twitter .

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