SUNBURY - The elimination of full-time benefits for at least five county employees, including two deputy coroners, at the Northumberland County Board of Commissioners special meeting Friday afternoon is expected to save the county nearly $52,000.

Approved by Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy and opposed by Commissioner Rick Shoch, the move was approved to enforce a particular section of the county personnel policy manual that provides the county pay 50 percent of the full health premiums for each regular part-time employee, not including employees who work less than 20 hours a week.

If questions arise, commissioners should refer to the county classification and compensation plan or adopt a new motion at a salary board meeting, the motion read.

Shoch said he voted against the motion because he wasn't provided with the information until late Christmas Eve and considers the move a "swipe" at Coroner James Kelley and the other commissioners are "targeting" Kelley's office.

Furthermore, he said, he hopes the policy manual won't be "selectively enforced."

"They are part time positions, even in the paperwork," Bridy said, reiterating what human resources director Joseph Picarelli told The News-Item in November.

Kelley, who was at the public meeting, could not be reached later to offer comment. However, he said in November his deputies deserve full-time benefits because of their pressing and unpredictable work schedules that require them to be on call "24-7."

Bridy and Clausi said health care insurance and other benefits were being given illegally since 1998 when the county salary board agreed to split a full-time deputy position into two part-time posts.

The move fulfills a promise by Clausi to eliminate the benefits come Jan. 1, thus building upon the discord between Clausi and Bridy and Kelley that surged this fall following row-office salary cuts and subsequent lawsuit by those affected, including Kelley.

Salaries

Currently, chief deputy coroner James R. Gotlob, of Sunbury, receives a salary of $14,762 plus annual medical benefits valued at $13,653. Deputy coroner Barry J. Leisenring of the Winfield area earns $9,305 plus $523 in medical benefits and $900 for a partial insurance waiver.

Bridy and Clausi criticized Kelley Friday for calling the positions "24-7," noting the three of them are often "on call."

"It can't be both ways," Bridy said.

Kelley previously said the part-time designation is on paper only to help save the county money in regards to state regulations. Plus, he said offering health care benefits to deputy coroners is in line with the county's long-standing effort to compensate for lower pay compared to the private sector by offering better benefits.

He said he and the deputies deserve health care coverage, too, for jobs in which they are exposed to dead bodies and the risk of AIDS, hepatitis and other diseases and do a lot of heavy lifting.

Kelley, a Coal Township resident, has served as coroner since 2002 and worked as a deputy coroner for 12 years before that.

Row officer lawsuit

He was among four county row officers to file a civil lawsuit against Clausi, Bridy, Shoch and the county for lowering their salaries between 42 and 48 percent and increasing their contributions to health care to 50 percent of the county's cost. Kelley's salary would be cut from $53,834 to $30,500, effective Jan. 1.

But the row officers, through argument by their attorney Samuel C. Stretton of West Chester, were granted a temporary injunction Nov. 8 by Centre County Senior Judge David E. Grine that "freezes" the salary and health care changes until further action by the court.

Jury commissioners

Benefits for two jury commissioners and assessment office employee were also eliminated, but the names and benefits could not be confirmed Friday since human resources director Joe Picarelli was not working Friday and Bridy did not know.

Budget director Jeff McClintock said the jury commissioners change will save the county nearly $20,000 and the assessment office employee change will save nearly $15,000.