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A disregard for taxpayers or well deserved? The debate over raises for some Allegheny Co. leaders

PITTSBURGH — Allegheny County council member Bethany Hallam has called hefty pay raises among top county leaders a blatant disregard for taxpayers.

Hallam is co-sponsoring a new bill that, if passed, would require large pay raises to land on the desk of the council before a budget is approved. She says the largest pay increases over the last two years have been in the county manager and county executive’s offices.

“We’re talking astronomical numbers here,” Hallam tells Channel 11. “We’re not talking 5-10% raises. In one case a person received a raise of $63,000 over that two-year period. Another person in that same 2-year period received a $48,000 raise.”

Hallam says this bill is about making sure people know what’s going on in their government and what their taxpayer dollars are funding. That also goes for more transparency with Allegheny County Council.

Allegheny County Manager William McKain is the chief administrative officer in the county and is responsible for supervising all executive departments. McKain said he stands by his team because of their work during the pandemic and supports these raises.

“Everyone turned to government more than ever during the pandemic,” McKain said during Tuesday’s committee meeting.

McKain added that responsible fiscal work is why there hasn’t been a tax increase in a decade. He also acknowledged how difficult it is to hold on to valuable employees.

“There is a competitive war in the market to attract people and retain them,” McKain added.

Two council members said with a $3 billion budget and 7,000 county employees, the headline shouldn’t be framed as raises for only a few people.

“This is nothing but a bunch of salary bashing as far as I’m concerned,” council member Nicholas Futules said.

“We want to shine some light on things — we should shine a light on county council,” council member Sam DeMarco added. “Maybe we should fix our own house first before we go after others.”

Hallam also pointed out that some county union workers voted Tuesday to strike, saying the county isn’t negotiating in good faith, while others are seeing the highest pay raises among all employees.

County Manager William McKain’s statement can be read in full here:

“I’m extremely proud of the team we have and believe that taxpayers are fortunate to have them at the helm in Allegheny County. I would stack them up against any other team in the country. We manage a $3B annual budget. We continued to operate during a pandemic, when people - more than ever - turned to government, without any negative impact to the operations and services that our residents rely on. This county has the highest bond rating than it has had in decades. There has been no tax increase over the last decade because of the daily fiscal management of these departments. We’ve built up our rainy day fund. And we continue to see economic growth and investment in this county.

“In this competitive world, attraction and retention of staff is imperative. We are competing for talent with everyone else and we must invest in the people that have worked extraordinary hours, shown constant commitment and dedication to serving the residents of this county, and continue to do their part to make sure that this is a community that our taxpayers are proud of and find value in.”

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