Liberty Twp. trustees approve 2% raises amid coronavirus uncertainties

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

Liberty Twp. trustees delayed awarding non-union employees raises during a period of coronavirus uncertainty, but this week the township approved 2% pay hikes across-the-board for a total budget impact of $73,354.

The trustees usually give raises earlier in the summer and the range has been 3% to 4%. This year, they gave their non-union employees the bump after considering not giving increases at all this year.

“It has nothing to do with their performance, I believe the performance throughout COVID of our staff exceeds any performance they’ve ever put out there, they’ve worked hard and put their nose to the grindstone through these very difficult times," said Trustee Tom Farrell. “We’re very pleased with our staff however the financial side and the economics of the township and the uncertainty of the COVID, it was very difficult.”

Township Administrator Kristen Bitonte’s salary increased to $127,500 with the raise. Fire Chief Ethan Klussman is the second-highest-paid staffer, and his salary increased to $117,436 now. The raises were retroactive to Aug. 21.

ExploreLiberty Twp. preparing for pandemic impact in 2021 budget: What to know

Gauging the true impact of the coronavirus pandemic on local budgets has been challenging . Butler County was anticipating a $20 million general fund hole when Gov. Mike DeWine virtually closed the economy to stem the spread of the virus in March. The impact hasn’t been nearly as severe as projected.

Early this summer the trustees passed a $26.9 million tax budget for next year, which represents a 7% drop from this year. Revenue projections also fell from $29.3 million this year to $26 million next year. The budget shows a total fund balance of $29 million to start next year and just over $28 million by year’s end.

Finance Director Michelle Gries said the initial spending plan “is like step negative one” in the process of figuring out what the township can afford next year.

Trustee Steve Schramm said the trustees award raises based on merit, they judge Bitonte’s performance and review how she scored senior staff. Bitonte grades the 47 other employees.

He said the township’s finances have been better than they initially feared so the approved raises were “as fair as we could be under the circumstances.”

“We didn’t have nearly as big an impact on our finances as we suspected,” Schramm said. “But we’re guessing going forward they’re still going to play out.”

Trustee Christine Matacic said trying to predict the future of their finances played a big role in the delayed raises. When determining the percentage they also took into account the fact the cost of living is not going up as much as it has in the past.

“We wanted to see the impacts that we are going to be facing or at least get a feel for it a little more,” she said. “Because obviously what’s happening right now with COVID is going to have an impact on us with our budgeting over the next few years, especially the areas we’re already hearing and seeing that we will be having decreased revenues. We wanted to be fiscally responsible.”

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