SUNBURY - Northumberland County Coroner James F. Kelley, who began his fourth term earlier in the day, warned county commissioners Monday afternoon that his two deputies are considering resigning if their full-time benefits are not restored.

Speaking at the conclusion of the commissioners' meeting, Kelley said if chief deputy coroner James Gotlob and deputy coroner Barry Leisenring tender their resignations, it will cause serious problems for the county in terms of his office providing adequate services since it will be very difficult finding qualified replacements who would be willing to work without full-time benefits.

The coroner once again tried to convince Commissioners Stephen Bridy and Vinny Clausi that his deputies deserve full-time benefits and said the issue should be resolved by the salary board, not the commissioners.

Bridy and Clausi voted Dec. 27 to enforce a county policy adopted by the salary board in 1998 that prohibits part-time employees from receiving full-time benefits.

Commissioner Richard Shoch is opposed to eliminating the full-time benefits for the two deputy coroners and agreed with Kelley's recommendation to have the salary board convene as soon as possible to vote on the issue.

The salary board is comprised of the three commissioners, controller and department head requesting salary changes.

Other PT positions

In addition to the deputy coroners, Clausi said part-time assessment office employee Sam Rumberger also should not receive full-time benefits. The policy also pertained to former jury commissioners Samuel Deitrick and George Dorko, but those positions were eliminated by the commissioners at the end of 2013.

By eliminating full-time benefits for the five positions, the county expects to save approximately $52,000.

Kelley asked the commissioners, "How can you do that? Insurance coverage is part of their compensation plan. This is a salary board issue."

The coroner said a lack of communication exists between his office and the commissioners. Kelley, who commended Shoch for listening to his concerns about the cut in benefits, said Clausi and Bridy don't understand what the jobs of the coroner and his deputies entail.

Shoch told Kelley that he has a right as a row officer to have the salary board convene, but noted any meeting would have to be advertised first.

Clausi, who participated by telephone while on vacation in Florida, and Bridy objected to having a salary board meeting because a policy is already in place.

When contacted after the meeting, Clausi stated, "I am not calling a salary board meeting to please Mr. Kelley. I didn't create the policy, but I plan to enforce it. If they don't like the policy, they can go to court."

Clausi, who serves as chairman of the board of commissioners, said he is concerned other row officers with part-time employees would come forward to challenge the policy if a salary board meeting is held for the deputy coroners.

Kelley told the commissioners the coroner's office is structured differently than when the policy about benefits was adopted in the late 1990s.

A 'swipe'

Last month's move by Clausi and Bridy was made to enforce a particular section of the county personnel policy manual that requires the county to 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.

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 Kelley.

Kelley has repeatedly said during the past couple months that 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 Jan. 1, thus building upon the discord between Clausi, Bridy and Kelley that surged this past fall following row-office salary cuts and a subsequent lawsuit by those affected.

As of the end of 2013, Gotlob of Sunbury received a salary of $14,762 plus annual medical benefits valued at $13,653. Leisenring of the Winfield area earned $9,305 plus $523 in medical benefits and $900 for a partial insurance waiver.

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 his deputies deserve health care coverage for jobs in which they are exposed to dead bodies and the risk of AIDS, hepatitis and other diseases.

Row officer suit

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

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.

In other business

The commissioners agreed to transfer ownership of a newly-constructed pedestrian bridge on Mulberry Street in Shamokin to the City of Shamokin.

Craig Lawler was appointed to the Northumberland-Montour Joint Airport Authority for a four-year term.

Meghan Weaver, foster parent coordinator and a supervisor with Children and Youth Services, was presented a certificate by the commissioners for being selected Employee of the Month for December.

The board welcomed new controller Christopher Grayson and prothonotary Justin Dunkelberger to county government. Both men were among several officials sworn into office Monday morning.

Clausi and Grayson were named chairman and secretary, respectively, of the county retirement board during a brief reorganization meeting. Clausi also was appointed to serve as chairman of the salary board as mandated by the county code.