By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — Five row officers whose salaries were slashed up to 48 percent on Oct. 1 intend to file a lawsuit against Northumberland County and be represented in part by a county solicitor.
Recorder of Deeds Mary Zimmerman, Coroner James Kelley, Sheriff Chad Reiner, Treasurer Kevin Gilroy and Prothonotary Kathleen Strausser have chosen attorney Samuel Stretton, of West Chester, to represent them in a lawsuit that challenges their salaries being lowered to $31,000 or less.
David Marateck, a Shamokin attorney and county treasurer’s office solicitor, is the liaison between the county and Stretton, Gilroy said.
Controller Tony Phillips is not part of the lawsuit. His salary remained at $56,676 after the Oct. 1 meeting. He is running for re-election in November.
In addition to their salaries being lowered, row officers must also pay 50 percent of their benefit premiums.
“I want the media to cover this story,” Stretton said. “The public should be made aware of everything that is happening.”
The public must wait until Monday or Tuesday to learn the basis of the lawsuit against Northumberland County and Commissioners Vinny Clausi, Steve Bridy and Rick Shoch, because the complaint has not been filed.
County officials “violated the statute,” Stretton said Friday. “I believe they have a case and I look forward to presenting it.”
Stretton said he will file the lawsuit in Northumberland County Court and was not sure whether any Northumberland County judge would hear the case.
“I sued one of the judge’s family and I represented another one,” Stretton said. “So I’m not sure what will happen, but that is up to them.”
Stretton wouldn’t identify which judge he represented, but did say he sued President Judge Robert Sacavage’s family over a school district issue. He would not elaborate.
Court administrator Brandy Yasenchak said she heard a lawsuit was in the making but that nothing was filed as of Friday. Sacavage and Judge William Wiest, who have recused themselves, she said.
Yasenchak has not heard whether Judge Charles Saylor would hear the case.
“Maybe they will bring someone in from another county,” Stretton said. “I’m not sure what they plan to do.”
Northumberland became the first county in Pennsylvania to slash row officers’ salaries — in some cases up to 48 percent.
Commissioners also cut their own pay by nearly 50 percent.
Additionally, row officers and commissioners will begin to pay 50 percent toward medical benefits. Those leaders claiming three dependents will contribute up to $10,500 annually in premiums alone.
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 be reduced until 2016.
The coroner’s salary was set at $30,500 because the state recognized the position as being a lower-paid job than the rest, Bridy said, so he felt he would stick with the commonwealth’s recommendation.
Row officers need to do what is right for the taxpayers of Northumberland County, “and for the future of these offices,” said Gilroy, the treasurer.
Taxpayers should know Marateck is a county employee, Clausi said.
“I believe any attorney that is suing the taxpayers should not be receiving funds from the county,” Clausi said. “Shame on Mr. Gilroy for having him work on this against the county.”
Marateck is also the solicitor of the Northumberland County Authority board.
“I am going to reach out to the Northumberland County Authority board and tell them they should not have this attorney and he receives taxpayer money and he should not receive any more money,” Clausi said.
Saylor should not hear the case, Clausi said.
“As a professional he knows he must recuse himself,” Clausi said. “Everyone knows there has been bad blood between him (Saylor) and the commissioners office.”