MERCER – Even though Mercer County commissioners gave Coroner John Libonati a significant raise, his salary still lags behind the pay of other county elected officials.
And he’s not happy about it.
At their special meeting Tuesday night, commissioners discussed a 14.59% increase in the coroner’s salary, which still leaves it at more than $18,000 below the other county salaries.
John Logan, the county’s fiscal administrator, said the coroner’s pay reflects a benchmark, set in 2004, that put the office’s compensation below that of other county elected officials.
“The salary of the coroner at that time was more of a part-time official, and that seemed to be an appropriate pay rate,” Logan said.
Commissioners approved a 14.59% increase this week in the coroner’s salary to $52,361 at a vote of 2 to 1, with Tim McGonigle voting against the increase.
The pay raise will take effect in 2024. State law requires that wage increases for public officials can't go into effect during the officeholders' current term.
Most Mercer County elected officials make $71,052, $18,691 more than the coroner’s pay.
Libonati said his compensation should be at or near those of his fellow elected officials.
“In comparison, the coroner’s salaries, volumes, and county support was performed throughout the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Libonati said. “Mercer County is the only Class 5 county within the commonwealth where the coroner’s salary is not equal to the other row offices within the county.”
McGonigle opposed the pay raise. The commissioner’s brother, J. Bradley McGonigle III, held the coroner’s office for 24 years before Libonati was elected in 2015, and Libonati had been the director of operations for the family’s McGonigle Ambulance Service when he was elected.
“Now the taxpayers will foot the bill for his large salary increase, and he has increased an office that has been run responsibly for many decades,” McGonigle said.
McGonigle said the population in Mercer County has decreased. U.S. Census data indicates that the county’s population fell by 5.1%, from 116,638 in the 2010 U.S. Census to 110,652 10 years later.
“Less people means less deaths,” McGonigle said.
Libonati, however, claimed that the office’s workload is increasing.
The coroner cited statistics showing that the number of deaths increased from 2020 to 2021. He said in 2020, the total death notifications was 1,129 compared to 1,531 in 2021; total investigative cases were 217 in 2020 and 216 in 2021; and the total cremation reviews and authorizations were 784 in 2020 and 909 in 2021.
McGonigle also said Libonati ran for office seven years ago on his word to lead his office in a conservative manner.
“The county has not asked him to broaden the scope of his work, but he has chosen to do so anyway,” McGonigle said. “He has also refused to return the coroner’s office to a county-owned building and by doing so has created a liability by having a full-time county employee report to his home daily.”
Libonati said by running the office out of his home, the county has saved money.
Libonati also said that the coroner’s office is unlike any of the other row offices and is required to be function outside the standard work week and holiday schedule.
“The office of the coroner must maintain a readiness to engage 24 hours per day, 365 days per year without interruption,” Libonati said. “Any interruption of availability would cause unnecessary duress to families in need of services.”
Commissioner Matthew McConnell said he voted for the increase in the coroner’s salary because the scope of the coroner’s duties have increased.
“The coroner is doing much more than previously, and I think some of that had to do with drugs,” McConnell said.
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NOTE: This article has been edited to reflect that the pay raise will go into effect in 2024.