Fight continues over deputy pay
SUNBURY - Northumberland County employs 113 part-time workers.
If commissioners allow the two deputy coroners, considered by the county among the part-timers, to continue to receive full-time benefits, and verify that through a fresh salary board vote, the others may demand the same.
That's the position of Commissioner Chairman Vinny Clausi, who, with Stephen Bridy voted Dec. 27 to enforce a 1998 salary board policy that prohibits part-time employees from receiving full-time benefits.
The change impacts the two deputy coroners and one employee from the assessor's office who for years have been receiving benefits offered to full-time workers.
Coroner James F. Kelley believes his deputies' 24/7 on-call status gives them full-time status, and that they deserve to keep full-time benefits, including health care insurance at considerably lower rates than what part-timers pay.
Part-timers must pay 50 percent of the county's cost, a rate Bridy and Clausi also established for row officers and commissioners at the same time they implemented controversial salary reductions of 42 to 48 percent for those offices on Oct. 1. The new insurance rates go into effect as a new four-year term begins for each office.
In addition to health care insurance, full-time benefits in the county include vacation and holiday pay, life insurance and retirement earnings.
With the recent vote on the benefits, Chief Deputy Coroner James Gotlob, of Sunbury, and deputy Barry Leisenring, of the Winfield area, are subject to the new health insurance rates effective Feb. 1.
Gotlob is under the two-party plan, so it would increase his monthly contribution by more than 250 percent, from $175 to $694, or from $2,100 to $8,328 a year. The new annual rate represents more than 56 percent of his $14,762 salary.
Leisenring reportedly is under the single-person plan, so his monthly contribution would increase from $108 to $348, or from $1,296 to $4,176 annually. He makes $9,305, so his insurance costs would chew up about 45 percent of his gross salary.
Gotlob and Leisenring declined comment when contacted Friday.
The county estimated annual savings by eliminating full-time benefits for the deputies and assessor, as well as those paid to the two now-defunct jury commissioner positions, at $52,000.
Kelley, who began his fourth term in office Monday, cites not only the deputies' pressing and unpredictable work schedules, but also their exposure to disease, dead bodies, heavy lifting and other tasks that could compromise their health.
At Monday's commissioners' meeting, he said Gotlob and Leisenring might resign if the full-time benefits aren't restored, and urged the commissioners to convene a salary board meeting to resolve the issue.
The salary board is comprised of the three commissioners, controller and the department head requesting a salary change. Clausi said Kelley would be joined in positive votes by Commissioner Rick Shoch - who has described the deputy benefits change as a "swipe" against Kelley - and newly elected Controller Chris Grayson to defeat his and Bridy's no votes.
Then, he said, every part-time employee in the county would have a right to ask for full-time benefits.
"Other part-time employees pay 50 percent," he said about the health care costs. "Why should they get it (cheaper)?" he said. "We cannot discriminate against these people."
Clausi and Bridy said the 1998 salary board decision that split a full-time deputy coroner post into two did not include reference of benefits.
"We didn't create this," Clausi said, but instead are trying to fix what hasn't been adhered to for more than 15 years. "It (full-time benefits) was never supposed to exist."
There has been no salary board meeting scheduled.
Kelley said previously he considers Gotlob full time, and notes he would have to take over should Kelley be unable to perform his duties as coroner.
He has also said Leisenring's position is considered part time, but only on paper, to help save the county money in regards to state regulations.
Kelley argues health care benefits to deputy coroners that is the same as full-time county workers is in line with the long-standing effort to compensate for lower pay compared to the private sector by offering better benefits.
Other than pointing out that deputy coroners in Lycoming County receive full-time benefits and that their office has a larger staff than his (see separate story), Kelley declined further comment when contacted Friday.
Matter of fairness
County Human Resources Director Joseph Picarelli confirmed the deputy coroners and part-time field assessor Sam Rumberger will not be eligible for full-time benefits come Feb. 1 unless they pay 50 percent of the county's share of the premium for health care coverage. Rumberger earned $14,270 in 2013 and received health care benefits from the county valued at $10,065.
Picarelli said few part-time workers choose to pay the 50 percent and thus don't receive health insurance through the county.
Clausi said it's simply a matter of fairness.
"It's clear that we must treat all part-time employees equal under the law," he said Friday. "We can't pick and choose and cannot discriminate against anyone."