County contract talks continue

LOCK HAVEN — Negotiations are progressing and the approximately 140 union employees of Clinton County government may soon have a new four-year contract.

That was the word at Thursday’s county commissioners meeting.

The county has 275 full-time employees, roughly half of whom are in the union, reported Chief Clerk Jann Meyers. They include case workers, probation officers, court employees, sheriff’s deputies and correction officers.

The non-union employees recently had an increase in the rate they must pay toward their health insurance, after many years of paying the same rate, Meyers said. This is a topic that has been raised in the contract negotiations with union employees, she added.

Commissioner Chair Robert “Pete” Smeltz said he would like to see the non-union employees receive the same raises as those in the union, but that will depend on the outcome of current negotiations as well as the county’s financial picture.

Years ago, under a previous board of commissioners, non-union workers were given both a longevity payment and a cost of living increase which could have amounted to five percent per year, according to Smeltz. He called that increase too steep.

The commissioners also rescinded three salary decisions they made in December. They intended to set the salaries of the coroner and the treasurer, as well as the stipend for the tax claim director (currently the treasurer), through the year 2021. However, they have learned that their decisions came too late. Salaries for elected positions must be set before the election — in this case November 2017.

The most recent, legal decision made about the salaries for the coroner and treasurer was made four years ago when the salaries were set through 2019. The treasurer, Michelle Kunes, and the coroner, Zach Hanna, will each make $51,240 this year and $52,265 next year, representing 2 percent increases each year.

The commissioners intended to continue with 2 percent increases for the years 2020 and 2021. However, the coroner and treasurer salaries are locked into $52,265 for those two later years.

The commissioners apologized for the miscommunication that lead to their making the decision too late.

The stipend for Kunes as tax claim director will remain at $8,988 through 2021, for the same reason. The commissioners had intended to decrease that stipend to reflect a reduction in the work load and to bring it in line with stipends for other county row officers who have additional duties.

The Clinton County Correctional Facility renovations should soon be finished, Smeltz said, and the commissioners plan to make a public report on the project’s costs. The bids were around $400,000 lower than anticipated, Commissioner Paul Conklin said. However, security and camera issues have arisen, driving up the costs. Conklin said he believes the bottom line is still lower than the original estimate.

Smeltz pledged another public report to be made soon, on the costs of moving county offices from the downtown to the Clinton County Piper Building.

The county is refinancing a 2010 pension obligation bond, and the commissioners approved an agreement with Susquehanna Group Advisors Inc. for consulting services at $28,500. This is just one cost involved with refinancing, Meyers said, and Conklin noted the county will save money in the end.

A bill of $69,659 was approved from the relatively new health care contractor at the prison, Correct Care Solutions LLC, for one month. Although this might seem high compared with the contract with the previous provider, there won’t be the extra charges the previous provider had billed, resulting in a lower overall cost, the commissioners said.

Candidates interested in running for office this spring may pick up their petition packets from the Clinton County voter registration office on or after Feb. 13, the commissioners heard.

Conklin spoke about the upcoming state budget discussion in Harrisburg, saying he has heard the House of Representatives does not seem interested in seeking new sources of revenue.

Pennsylvania is the only major oil and gas producing state that doesn’t levy a severance tax on those resources, he said. The state Legislature should impose such a tax, he said, but keep the impact fees that companies are now required to pay to individual counties and possibly allow these companies to deduct impact fees from their severance tax bill.

State Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, has made this one of his priorities, reported Janaan Maggs, his legislative assistant.

Smeltz talked about the SEDA-COG Natural Gas Cooperative which the county participates in. The cooperative is trucking liquefied natural gas to large farms in Perry and other counties, he reported, partnering with Frontier Natural Resources Inc. in Bellefonte which has wells in Clinton County. The next big investment Pennsylvania needs is pipeline construction to get natural gas to the customers, he said.

In personnel decisions, Brittany Bickhart was transferred from full-time correctional officer at the prison to adult probation officer, effective Feb. 12, at a salary of $34,568.

Three other full-time correctional officers have resigned, with Andrew Cooper leaving Feb. 9 to take a job at Rockview State Correctional Institution, and Kaila Saar and Cody Coleman leaving Feb. 10 and also taking new jobs elsewhere.

It is a longstanding trend that officers receive their training in Clinton County, then take other jobs, Smeltz said.

“We do such a good job, our people are at the top of the list and other people hire them,” Conklin said.

Leah Mothersbaugh will conclude her stint as acting director of voting registration/elections on Feb. 12 and return to her previous job as planner/grant writer/administrator at a salary of $36,297.

Smeltz praised her. “We can’t say enough about how Leah rose to the occasion in helping this county get through the general election last fall in a last-moment move,” he said.

She stepped in after Maria Boileau resigned as voter registrar in October to become the city planner.

The county hired Kristen Petruzzi on Jan. 11 to replace Boileau.

Commissioner Jeff Snyder has been absent due to spinal surgery. He has started his physical therapy, Smeltz reported.