SUNBURY - Chief deputy coroner was established as a full-time position entitled to full-time benefits and a salary of $14,691 at Tuesday afternoon's Northumberland County Salary Board meeting.

The action puts a win in Coroner James F. Kelley's column after months of public battling with Northumberland County Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy over slashing of row officers' salaries and enforcement of a salary board policy prohibiting part-time employees from receiving full-time benefits.

Deputy Coroner James Gotlob can continue to pay for county health care insurance at the same rate paid by other county employees rather than 50 percent of the county's premium.

The change that Clausi and Bridy tried to enforce would have raised the rate for Gotlob, who has a two-party plan, from $175 to $694 a month, or from $2,100 to $8,328 a year, if he would choose to keep the county coverage. The new annual rate would have represented more than 56 percent of his salary. The vote to clarify the position was split - Kelley, Controller Christopher Grayson and Commissioner Rick Shoch in favor; Clausi and Bridy against it - and the discussion and arguments preceding the vote lasted 30 minutes. Kelley provided documentation showing past decisions that would provide the chief deputy position with full-time status, but Clausi and Bridy said no such record existed. The deputy coroners are not eligible for other full-time benefits such as vacation time, holiday pay or pensions. The coroner said his deputies' 24/7 on-call status gives them full-time status, and that they deserve to keep full-time benefits because of the health risks inherent in their jobs. If these men are on call 24/7, Grayson said that should be considered in the board's decision. Bridy provided 911 records to show that Kelley received one call per day and responded to 2.4 calls per month; Gotlob received one call every three days and responded to two calls per month; and deputy coroner Barry Leisenring received one call per four days and responded to less than one call per month. But Kelley said not all calls come through the 911 center, with some coming from paramedics and funeral directors. Throughout the meeting, Clausi said the decision was "fraud to the taxpayers."

Prothonotary Justin Dunkelberger, Register and Recorder Mary Zimmerman, Grayson, President Judge William H. Wiest and acting Sheriff Robert J. Wolfe took advantage of the salary board meeting, which Kelley had pressured Clausi to schedule to discuss the benefits issue.

Some of the row officers were granted their requests, while others were denied. The salary board includes the three commissioners, controller and the department head making the request. Grayson was granted permission to transfer employee Barb Johnson from part time to full time while Erin Wert goes full time to part time, but he was lost the vote to increase the salary of first deputy coroner controller Staci Raker from $31,873 to $34,156. He said the changes would have resulted in a net savings of $463. Raker was never compensated for taking on extra duties in the office in 2009, Grayson said. Bridy and Clausi asked what made her special in comparison to the other 113 non-union county employees who would not be getting raises. The vote failed for lack of majority, with Shoch and Grayson voting in favor and Bridy and Clausi voting against it. There was no fifth vote in this case because it was Grayson's department. Wiest was granted his requests of eliminating a position of judicial administrative assistant in the court administrator's office, effective March 7, and increasing the salaries of administrative secretaries Amy Zeiders and Cathy Poff from $29,525 to $31,324. The three actions will save $29,584 Bridy was the only one to vote against the motions, saying it was unfair to give raises when others were not getting them. Zimmerman's request to increase the salaries of first deputy register and recorder Christina Mertz from $33,488 to $34,840 and second deputy register and recorder Mary Scott from $30,210 to $31,739 were not approved. While it was an increase of $2,881 to the budget, Zimmerman said the fees in her department would be increasing between 15 and 20 percent, and an estimated $29,000 in revenue was expected from those fees, she said. In response to Bridy and Clausi asking her how she thought it was fair that her employees would receive raises and not the other county employees, Zimmerman said it wasn't and everyone should get raises. Clausi used chief assessor Al Bressi as an example of a department head who gave up raises to help the county. An angry Bressi then addressed the board, asking how they could justify giving raises. "If we don't have a row officer behind us, we don't get a raise. That's wrong," he said. Shoch and Zimmerman were the only two to vote for her increases; Grayson, Clausi and Bridy voted against them. A motion to create two temporary part-time positions of records clerk in the prothonotary's office for the remainder of the calendar year was tabled. The department is backlogged, and Dunkelberger said he needs help in catching up, otherwise the county may be open to litigation. Clausi said he would not vote for new positions, but would consider moving $15,000 from the commissioners' budget into the prothonotary's budget at the regular meeting that followed the salary board meeting. The money could be used for overtime for the current employees who only work 35 hours a week each, he said. However, during the brief 10-minute regular meeting, the motion to approve the budget transfer was tabled when Solicitor Frank Garrigan said he wanted to review the matter first. Clausi was still in a giving mood. "You'll get your money," he told Dunkelberger. "If not, I'll give you my money." In other business, the board approved: - Reducing the salary of the position of budget director from $67,380 to $60,402, effective Jan. 6. - Creating a deputy sheriff position to fill an open position, which was vacated after Wolfe was appointed acting sheriff when Chad Reiner resigned.(2/25/14)