By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — Northumberland County on Wednesday night became the first county in Pennsylvania to slash row officers’ salaries — in some cases up to 48 percent — while job holder after job holder against the move pleaded to no avail with commissioners.
Additionally, row officers and commissioners will begin to pay 50 percent of their salaries toward medical benefits. Those leaders claiming three dependents will contribute up to $10,500 annually in premiums alone.
Among those objecting to the salary changes was Coroner James Kelley, who explained he doesn’t have set hours, that his job is 24 hours a day.
“Death does not take a holiday,” Kelley told Commissioners Steve Bridy, Vinny Clausi and Rick Shoch before they voted 2-1 to make Kelley the lowest-paid row officer in the county at $30,500 — a salary reduction of $23,334.
“I work 365 days a year and 24 hours a day because I do not have 9-5 hours.”
Kelley was among six row officers to voice their opinion to commissioners.
Bridy said the reason Kelley’s salary was set at $30,500 was because the state recognized the position as being a lower-paid job than the rest, so Bridy decided to stick with the commonwealth’s recommendation.
That recommendation, however, was set in 1980.
Kelley has been busy lately dealing with two inmate hangings, several fatal vehicle accidents, and had a three-day appearance in Northumberland County Court in which his office successfully contributed in the guilty verdict of a Shamokin Dam woman convicted of involuntary manslaughter of a 1-year-old.
Only the controller’s office was spared by the slashing of salaries as it will continue to pay $56,676. The office is held by Tony Phillips, who is up for re-election in November.
“I pleaded my case like everyone else,” Phillips said after the vote. “I sent all three commissioners my thoughts on why the office should remain paid as is, and I’m grateful they believe the office is doing a good job.”
That’s not necessarily the case, though.
When the vote was taken for the controller’s office, Clausi motioned to keep the salary at $56,676 because he said it is the most important office in the county.
Bridy disagreed and a motion to change the salary failed.
Shoch, who announced at the outset Wednesday night he would be voting against lowering the salary on every position, said the entire meeting “was a dog and pony show.”
Shoch also said the meeting was advertised incorrectly and it could be challenged, but the outcome would only mean commissioners would have to reconvene and take the vote again.
The remaining row offices were set at $31,000 and most will feel the pay cuts starting Jan. 1. The treasurer’s and sheriff’s pay won’t get cut until 2016.
After all the row officers addressed commissioners, a few county residents spoke out on behalf of the elected positions and asked county leaders to rethink their plan.
When it came time to vote, Clausi and Bridy began to negotiate the salaries.
Shoch believed the salaries were pre-determined by his colleagues and said the crowd in attendance, which consisted of several residents and row officers from Bucks, York and Schuylkill counties, saw the “dog and pony show.”
“I spoke to other commissioners from other counties and I spoke to our own row officers and this is just a bad idea all the way around,” Shoch said.
“These guys (Clausi and Bridy) believe other counties will be following in their footsteps and I think they will find this is not the case. I voted no on all of this tonight and other commissioners have explained this just isn’t the right thing to do.”
Clausi and Bridy have been outspoken in their efforts to save taxpayers money and they have been quite vocal about trying to end what they say is the “career politician.”
All the row officers who spoke said they took offense to being called a “career politician.”
“I don’t consider myself a career politician,” Sheriff Chad Reiner told the commissioners.
“I can assure you that my job is not a part-time job. It’s a way of life. It is a 24-7, 365 day a year job, where it is possible to be called to duty at any time.”
Commissioners themselves also are getting a pay cut. Clausi and Bridy voted to lower their own salaries to $31,500, which take effect in 2016 for those elected in November 2015.
The last vote of the night was for all elected officials to begin to pay 50 percent of medical benefits.
It passed 2-1.
After the meeting, row officers shook their heads in disgust and Clausi and Bridy spoke to the media and defended their actions.
“Many row officers over the years have worked hard in their offices but many others have only worked on a part-time basis and expected full pay and full benefits,” Clausi said.
“That is wrong. That is not right. Now I believe it is time for the leaders and row officers to sacrifice what we have asked our employees to sacrifice over the years.”
“We have husbands and wives making $31,000 between them and getting by,” Bridy said. “These people are out every day working hard and we have a lower cost of living in our county and I believe what we did tonight is fair to everyone.”
The moves will save $840,000 in salaries and possibly $240,000 in medical costs.
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