Eleven prosecutors in the York County Judicial Center will get pay raises effective April 1, a gesture the York County District Attorney said he hopes will stem a departure of talented lawyers.

District Attorney Tom Kearney said he invests years of training into young prosecutors just to have them leave to take a job with the state or another entity because they owe thousands of dollars in student loans and aren't making enough money to start families.

York has lost two senior prosecutors in the past six months alone, and the county can't continue losing its best prosecutors without a corresponding decrease in public safety, Kearney said.

The top prosecutors are those who prosecute complicated homicide trials requiring vast scientific and legal knowledge to ensure a conviction, he said.

"I don't want somebody right out of law school doing that," he said.

And Kearney said he doesn't want to lose a trial because someone inexperienced had to take the case.

The numbers: The county's Salary Board voted 3-2 to pass the pay increases Wednesday, with commissioners Steve Chronister and Doug Hoke opposed. The commissioners said they supported the idea of increasing pay, just not as much as Kearney proposed.

Under the measure passed Wednesday, annual salaries for 11 of 26 prosecutors will increase by 5 to 16 percent, ranging from about $3,000 to $12,000 per year.

For example, a first assistant district attorney's pay will jump from $72,536 to $84,658, and a chief deputy prosecutor's salary will increase from $80,813 to $86,809.

Kearney said prosecutors in York are "woefully under-compensated," citing a recently released salary survey from the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association. According to that document, York County courthouse compensation lags behind other Third Class counties in the state, despite York having a considerably higher caseload.

With a yearly caseload of about 11,000 cases, York pays prosecutors $50,000 to $80,813, according to the survey. Dauphin County has only 6,350 cases annually, but pays its prosecutors $44,845 to $116,397. Lancaster has 6,000 cases per year and pays $49,335 to $94,539, the survey shows.

Reaction: Commissioner Chris Reilly voted for the increase, as did Kearney and county Controller Robb Green. On the other side, Hoke and Chronister said the salaries need to be increased and modernized, but they couldn't support the above-the-norm increases proposed.

Hoke said a 4 percent raise is standard, and he would have voted for such. The salary increases will be paid from the taxpayer-funded county coffers, he reminded the board.

Kearney said the salaries are not "unrealistic or greedy," but are fair and necessary.

He said he plans to propose increases for six members of management at next week's meeting, because the salary schedule has created a system under which some people can make more money than those who are in charge.

"Eventually, nobody wants to be management, because why take the heat if you're not getting compensated," he said.

In total, the 17 salaries he wants to increase will amount to an increase of about $74,000 per year, he said.

Kearney is an elected row officer whose salary is set by the state and is not subject of the county-level negotiations.

—Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.