The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, which handles more than 5,000 cases a year, lost about one-sixth of its staff last year when its salary scale was the lowest in the state.
But a new contract signed last month brought a "huge boost to morale" and hiring is now underway, according to First Assistant Prosecutor Raymond Milavsky.
Last year, six of the 32 full-time assistant prosecutors left, mostly because they were offered better-paying jobs at other prosecutors' offices, or with the state or law firms, Milavsky said. One prosecutor retired after 25 years, while the others had between five and 12 years of experience, leaving the office with a less-experienced staff.
"We have lost so many prosecutors in the last four or five years, and I think the bleeding will stop with this contract," he said.
The contract raises the $51,000 base salary for an entry-level prosecutor by about $5,000, Milavsky said. "These are very decent raises," he said.
The three-year pact is retroactive to January, he said, and the prosecutors will receive a lump sum this month to cover this year's raise.
Eric Arpert, spokesman for the Burlington County Freeholder Board, said the contract provides raises of 1.75 percent each year and also offers "merit funding, which will provide Prosecutor Bernardi with the opportunity to offer attorneys with five or more years of experience additional raises based on performance."
He deferred further comment to the Prosecutor's Office.
Milavsky said prosecutors' salaries had been flat from 2007 through 2011, and rose slightly in 2012 and 2013. "It's a fiscally prudent county, and as a taxpayer, we all like that," Milavsky said of the GOP-controlled Freeholder Board. "But when it comes to prosecutors and public safety, you have to pay them and give them competitive salaries."
County Administrator Paul Drayton has been quoted as saying the salaries are now comparable to those paid to assistant prosecutors in Gloucester County, which has a similar number of cases. He said Burlington County's pay scale had been among the lowest. The top salary for the assistant prosecutors was $125,000, Drayton has said.
The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office processes about 5,000 municipal cases and shepherds about 1,500 cases to the grand jury for indictments each year, Milavsky said. It also tries about 35 to 40 cases a year.
Milavsky said the office hired five prosecutors in the last three months and will fill its last vacancy in January. "You can imagine we will have some growing pains. But the good news is we will be fully staffed," he said.