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5:54 AM Sun, Sept. 23rd

County attorney wants raises for staff

PRESCOTT, Arizona - Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, claiming her department is "bleeding" attorneys who are leaving for other jobs, on Wednesday asked the Board of Supervisors at its annual budget meeting, to give her lawyers a ten-step pay raise for fiscal year 2014-15, which would cost $211,000 annually.

Polk said she could pay for the first year through saved grant funds, or pay half the cost for two years, if the board agreed to the plan.

"We have to stop the bleeding," she said, explaining that she had experienced "the loss of numerous attorneys to public attorney offices here, locally, which is something I've never experienced in 14 years as County Attorney."

Polk said losing staff to larger cities happened from time to time, but she had never seen an exodus of lawyers leaving for "the City of Prescott, the Attorney General's Office here in Prescott, to go to the Public Defender's Office."

She attributed the loss to lower salaries. "The bottom line is, my attorneys' salaries are not competitive with other public attorneys here in Yavapai County," she said.

"The impression we had, Sheila, is that the public defenders, their scale is below what the scale is for your office," Chairman Rowle P. Simmons said.

Polk responded that attorneys could do freelance contract work with the public defender and also do their own law firm work, "which makes a much higher salary than I can pay."

Supervisor Chip Davis told Polk he would support the idea of cost-of-living raises for employees "countywide, but I can't support addressing one department at a time."

One possibility floated by Supervisor Tom Thurman was to do the two-year funding plan and then, if the economy hadn't recovered sufficiently to increase tax revenues by year three, Polk could make up the difference through attrition.

"Should we let the HR department go, since we don't need anybody to professionally do an analysis of whether we're competitive in our salaries or not?" Davis asked.

Outgoing Public Defender Dean Trebesch presented a budget in which he asked for $69,000 for an attorney made necessary by recent changes in the court's Early Disposition Court process. However, he noted, department expenses were under budget.

Trebesch said he had lost just one attorney in the last year.

"You have a very stable workforce," Davis said, despite the fact that his staff attorneys are paid less than Polk's.

Sheriff Scott Mascher said funding he had been using to staff the Prescott jail for 24/7 booking by any county police agency was quickly drying up and he would need the county to pay detention officers to keep it open.

That change was overshadowed by a discussion of lines in the budget for transportation, lodging, and registration, totaling about $46,000, which Mascher had not broken out by event. Mascher said that was because law enforcement training was generally announced very close to the event date and he didn't know what would be offered.

Afterr Mascher left the meeting, Supervisor Craig Brown said, "You can't really tell me you believe that." He called the money Mascher's "slush fund" and asked why the sheriff didn't have to specify where and when staff would be traveling as the board required earlier in the day of Assessor Pam Pearsall.

"The sheriff's not telling you where he's sending his people, that way he can send as many as he wants, based on how much money he has left over. You have no control over it," he said.

No spending decisions were made Wednesday.

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