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Lycoming County commissioners OK recruitment, retention plan for 911 call center; controller questions legality

Krista Rogers, county controller, accused the county commissioners of acting outside the “process established within the law” for their handling of a recruitment/retention package for 911 Call Center employees.

At last week’s meeting, the Lycoming County commissioners had discussed a 911 recruitment/retention plan that would provide $5,000 for each phase of the program to be paid quarterly in $1,000 increments. The plan was then placed on Tuesday’s agenda for a vote. Funding would come from the state’s 911 program.

“First, I’d like to note that the action taken last week by the commissioners was not as their solicitor stated simply to approve the concept of the 911 recruiting and retention package,” Rogers said.

Rogers said that she had watched the recording of the meeting, noting that the commissioners were thanked for passing the package, which she claimed showed that others thought it was a done deal.

“It’s not acceptable for the commissioners to continually take action on items illegally outside of the process established within the law,” Rogers contended.

She followed her statement up with a motion to amend the package to cover all public safety county employees, including but not limited to, 911 employees as well as employees in adult and juvenile probation and prison pre-release. Rogers then added that it should include all other employees that “worked during this pandemic and beyond to ensure that citizens of Lycoming County were safe and secure.”

Rogers further contended that the state emergency management funds the commissioners were seeking to fund the program were not guaranteed. She said that if it wasn’t reimbursable, federal monies from the American Rescue Plan could be used for not only the 911 package, but for all public safety employees as well.

“So many large Lycoming County departments are working overtime having problems filling open positions and yet continue to perform their duties while shifting to accommodate a pandemic in 2020,” Rogers said.

“Not only those in the field and working with clients but those in administrative offices and those providing administrative support to them, who without them, they could not function. They continue to serve county residents suffering from effects of the shutdowns and reduced employment in the county,” Rogers said.

In response, Commissioner Rick Mirabito noted that he and his colleagues had thought about the employees who worked during the pandemic.

“A concern I had is that working during the pandemic was a two-edged sword,” Mirabito said.

“People work and they put themselves at risk. What they didn’t have, because they got a continuous paycheck for the whole year, is they didn’t have the stress of not being able to make house payments and car payments and all those problems,” he added.

Mirabito noted that the county is going to do a salary study to determine where various jobs sit in the county.

“I think that to use a lot of the relief money in the manner that you’re describing would not serve all the people in the county fairly,” Mirabito said.

The commissioners stressed that the recruitment/retention plan they were proposing was not pandemic-related, but was related to the fact that the number of employees at the 911 Call Center has been decreasing, noting that the numbers have gone from 17 employees down to eight.

“We’ve been very sensitive to every department in this pandemic — what their needs are, what their concerns are, their pay. We understand there’s other departments that have been working excessively through this and it’s not been ignored,” said Scott Metzger, chairman of the board of commissioners. “But this is a separate issue and it has to do with the 911 center that is below the staff that they need to man that office. It’s a separate issue.”

Commissioner Tony Mussare shared that the call center had hired two people, but he added “that’s a far cry from where we need to be.”

“It’s telling us that this job is not something that people want even at the price we’re paying,” Mussare said.

“We have to address issues that come before us that are critical,” he added.

Following the discussion, the recruitment/retention plan was approved by a 4-0 vote, with Rogers joining the commissioners in their vote on the salary board.

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