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Council member John Cusick has been making a point of asking each department head (1) if more people are needed and (2) whether compensation is adequate.
Gina Gibbs, the combination Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans Court, told Council there is no problem in her office, which has had the same people for the past six years. "They love me, I love them," she said. The managers of both Civil and Criminal Divisions,however, said their staff is underpaid.
"Our office is very busy," noted Prothonotary Holly Ruggerio. Her office is ground zero for all civil matters, from mortgage foreclosures to protection from abuse act petitions. She said her staff must familiarize themselves with both state and county rules of civil procedure, and that their work is "complicated" and "fast-paced." Though she failed to mention it, her office also handles numerous passport applications. Yet the salary paid to Civil Division employees is lower than what is paid to clerks in other, less stressful, offices. As a result, she is plagued by "constant turnover." Though most of the employees stay with the county, she is constantly forced to train new people.
Cusick called the Civil Division a "core function of county government. It is vital that we be adequately staffed there."
Another core function of county government is the Criminal Division. That's ground zero for all criminal filings, from bad checks to murder. Leigh Ann Fisher is the Clerk. Though she said she's been able to retain staff, they are underpaid. "We should be on the same level as the MDJ (Magisterial District Judge) offices," she argued, adding that her employees spend 75% of their time in court.
Archivist Renee Drago seems content with her staff of five, but said her department is slowly becoming engulfed in paper coming primarily from Gracedale. She noted many departments are failing to scan these records, which would make paper retention unnecessary.
Administrator Charles Dertinger agreed with Drago, informing Council that at the current rate, the archives building will be engulfed in unnecessary paperwork within two years. Departments are being encouraged to scan documents. He noted that the county did have a lease to store Gracedale documents at another building,but it was ended by the previous administration.
In addition to the row offices, Northampton County Council reviewed the budgets for the District Attorney and Public Defender, with little comment. Neither department seeks additional staff or major increases. Council VP Ron Heckman commended Chief Public Defender Nuria DiLuzio and her staff of 18 assistants with providing legal assistance to those without means.
"The DAs get the ink, but the PDs do the work," he bellowed. Of course, he waited until DA John Morganelli was gone before making this ridiculous statement. Not only does Morganelli spend most weekends at the courthouse, but he is the man police call when someone is arrested for murder at 3 am.
It's more accurate to say that both offices work hard.
Council also heard from Corrections Director James Kostura, who wants to add six guards to his staff. He said it's to combat turnover, injured officers and overtime. Though no one questioned him on this point, I sure would.
If he's unable to keep the officers he has now, what on earth makes him think that adding six more will make a difference?
If you wish to stop the mandated overtime and turnover, start paying officers what they are worth, and stop the salary compression.
Sheriff Rich Johnston explained that there's been an increase in overtime this year because deputies have been assigned to 72 hospital visits so far this year, as opposed to 60 last year.
Coroner Zach Lysek predicts that the number of fatal opiod overdoes this year will be close to the 109 deaths reported last year. He added that Narcan doses cost between $400-$1,000, but the Department of Health purchases them.