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5:29 PM Wed, Nov. 14th

County board grants raises for YCAO attorneys

COTTONWOOD - Yavapai County Supervisors changed their minds Monday and gave a 10 percent raise to most attorneys in the County Attorney's Office.

Approximately 20 attorneys in the $67,590-$126,907 salary ranges will get the 10 percent raises after County Attorney Sheila Polk appealed the board's earlier denial.

Polk said she will use leftover grant money to cover the $162,835 cost for the raises in next year's budget, then the money will have to come from the general fund.

Supervisor Chip Davis was the only one against the 10 percent raises, saying it wouldn't be fair to the rest of the county's approximately 1,700 employees who are getting much smaller raises. They get a one-percent cost of living raise, while some longer-term employees also get 1-3 percent "compression" raises to separate their salaries from new hires since county employees have seen raises only once since 2008. The attorneys' raises won't be on top of those raises.

Polk noted that she didn't seek extra employees while the Sheriff's Office, Adult Probation, Clerk of the Court, Superior Court and Public Defender all sought and received approval for new employees. She agreed they were needed.

"I've got wonderful attorneys that can get the work done if I can just keep them," she said.

But she's lost five attorneys in the last 12 months for higher government salaries, and four are staying in the Prescott area. The Arizona Attorney General's Office is offering $4,000 more, the county Public Defender is offering $5,000 more, and the City of Prescott is offering $14,411 more.

The Board of Supervisors itself even lured away one of her attorneys, she noted, and it's paying Jack Fields $11,653 more. He's now the board attorney and assistant county administrator.

Monday she was notified a sixth attorney is leaving for the City of Glendale.

Davis said raises should first be backed up by Human Resources Department recommendations. The county's Human Resources Department concluded only one group of attorneys was underpaid, Davis said.

But that's because the salary comparisons were with Mohave, Pinal and Coconino counties, Polk said, and she's never lost attorneys to those counties.

"The expertise of your department warrants this increase," Supervisor Jack Smith said when voting for the 10-percent pay increase.

Davis countered that other county employees also have expertise in their fields.

Other departments didn't ask for higher raises, Supervisor Craig Brown said.

Supervisor Tom Thurman said the County Attorney is losing more employees than other departments and it must be because of either Polk or poor pay.

No one offered comparisons of the turnover rates in various departments.

Although he worried about the precedent of giving higher raises to only one department, Thurman agreed with Polk that attorneys tend to have huge loans from earning law degrees. Polk estimated attorneys end up with $150,000-$200,000 in debt after seven years of higher education.

Polk also cited money that her department's efforts contributed to the county general fund last year, including business fines for hiring illegal aliens ($78,302), criminal bond forfeitures ($725,333) and criminal fines.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder