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From the archives 2022

Spotlight PA tested government transparency in Centre County. Tell us what to look for in the salary data.

by Emma Dooling of Spotlight PA |

Centre County salary data illustration
Daniel Fishel for Spotlight PA

This story was produced by the State College regional bureau of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to investigative and public-service journalism for Pennsylvania. Sign up for our regional newsletter, Talk of the Town.

In early June, Spotlight PA used Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law to request 2021 employee salary data from Centre County and its 35 municipalities to test their transparency and see which local government employees are earning the most in taxpayer dollars.

Our initial review of data showed that a few of the top earners made close to $200,000 last year.

The public records requests asked for the names, job titles, departments, and total compensations of each employee, broken down by their regular pay and any overtime, bonuses, and other wages they earned. We also requested race and gender information for each employee from the governments serving the largest populations: Centre County, the Borough of State College, Ferguson Township, and Patton Township. Data about race and gender will help us monitor the issue of pay equity.

Over the past month, we put out a bevy of phone calls and emails to local leaders across the county and got responses ranging from, “Well, we only have, like, five employees,” to “You’re really gonna flip some people out with this.”

Still, more than 70% of the municipalities provided their data in five business days, the initial response deadline under the state’s Right-to-Know Law. Two of the local governments requested a 30-day extension, while others granted the request but took longer to send the data.

So far, 35 of the 36 agencies Spotlight PA requested records from have provided compensation data, three have provided additional data on gender, and two have provided data on race.

As of July 13, Spotlight PA has yet to receive any data from Curtin Township.

While four municipalities sent data with missing details — job positions or total compensation — State College is the only local government that sent incomplete data and would not provide additional information upon request. For 27 employees, officials did not include job titles. In some cases, job titles were abbreviated or shown as codes. The borough denied requests to clarify these cases or provide additional documentation to help Spotlight PA understand the records.

“[Borough staff] are not required to explain abbreviations and answer questions about position titles,” an administrative assistant for the borough wrote in an email.

Spotlight PA has filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records.

Our initial analysis of the data showed that the larger the population, the greater the number of employees on a local government’s payroll.

While the majority of municipalities were able to export their payroll records as a spreadsheet, Spotlight PA received data in a variety of other formats, from records relayed over the phone to photocopies of handwritten ledgers.

Of the 35 municipalities that provided records, eight had more than 20 employees in 2021. The top two local government employers were State College and Centre County, with 218 and 583 people on their payrolls, respectively.

Most workers at the smaller municipalities were typically part-time employees or elected officials who received hourly wages, monthly pay, or one-time stipends. The larger municipalities had more full-time, salaried workers.

Spotlight PA’s review found that the State College borough manager was the highest-paid employee, and he made more than $195,000. The borough also reported that 31 of its 218 employees made more than $100,000 in 2021.

While the number of employees varies by municipality, the types of jobs are consistent. Almost all had a manager or supervisor, a secretary/treasurer, a tax collector, and at least one maintenance worker or laborer. Six of the local governments had a police department or sheriff’s office on their payroll.

Some employees held multiple positions, so their names were listed more than once in the payroll records. Additionally, half of the local governments had employees with the same last name on their 2021 payroll, raising questions about how many employ multiple members of the same family.

We’re just beginning our reporting on this data, and we want to hear from you. Tell us what you want us to look at in Centre County salary records. Send your questions and concerns about the area to Emma Dooling.

SUPPORT THIS JOURNALISM and help us reinvigorate local news in north-central Pennsylvania at Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability and public-service journalism that gets results.

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