Last updated: February 16. 2013 2:01AM - 281 Views

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PITTSTON TWP. ‚?? For the first time since 2008, 16 non-unionized employees at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport will be getting raises.

When the bi-county board that oversees the airport met Thursday, it decided to adopt its 2012 budget. Airport Director Barry J. Centini requested raises of 3 to 4 percent for the management and other non-union staff.

Centini said the raises will amount to a total of $34,700 this year. He noted the airport‚??s 30 unionized workers have been getting annual raises of between 1 and 3 percent each year since 2008.

The budget, along with the raises, were approved by a 5-1 vote with Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton the lone dissenter.

Lawton, attending his first meeting since being hired last month to the new position, said he was fine with the budget overall but was casting a vote against approving it based solely on the pay raises.

He noted Luzerne County department managers and administrators have gone five years without a raise, and in the midst of budget crunches and layoffs, it wouldn‚??t be right to then go and approve pay hikes for airport workers.

‚??I‚??ll be asking them to make further sacrifices. It won‚??t be easy to ask them to do that‚?Ě while all employees at the airport are getting their raises, Lawton said.

Just last month, Luzerne County officials announced 61 employees would lose their jobs due to budget cuts. At least 40 of the 61 furloughed workers are unionized, records show.

Efforts to approve pay rates for the non-union staff at the airport have been brought up for numerous votes and failed over the past three years. Typically, Lackawanna County‚??s three representatives have been supportive, but the Luzerne County contingency has been opposed.

In some cases, Luzerne County officials have tried to sway Lackawanna County officials to vote for payments to fund the airport retirees‚?? pension fund in exchange for their supporting pay raises, but those efforts failed.

But with all new representatives from Luzerne County on the airport board this year, the matter was brought up once more and finally gained approval.

Rick Williams, one of the three Luzerne County designates on the airport board, said he felt the time had come to compensate airport officials better.

‚??They‚??ve sacrificed the past few years,‚?Ě Williams said.

He said the vote was difficult but said ‚??to keep good management people in place, you need to compensate them properly.‚?Ě

Williams said that when the county budget process comes up later this year he will advocate for raises for county managers, too.

‚??They‚??ve also sacrificed,‚?Ě Williams said.

Lawton said he stands by his vote and noted it was not a knock on those working at the airport, but a reflection that times are tough with budgets.

When asked if the raises will likely be used by county managers as leverage for requesting raises, he said, ‚??I will play the hand I‚??ve been dealt.‚?Ě

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