After back-and-forth action between the state Supreme Court and lawmakers, Somerset County commissioners on Tuesday moved to use their renewed power to eliminate the jury commissioner position.
The commissioners passed a resolution 2-1 to cut the positions after December, the end of the term for the elected office. County commissioners adopted a similar resolution in December, but the act was deemed unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. Lawmakers addressed the court’s concerns and passed a new law that again allowed for counties to eliminate the positions. Somerset County Jury Commissioners Sandra Miller and Alice Musser were unavailable for comment.
Commissioners John Vatavuk and Pamela Tokar-Ickes voted to eliminate the two elected positions to save money. Commissioner Joe Betta opposed the move. There was debate Tuesday about how much would be saved by cutting the posts. Estimated savings ranged from $80,000 to $100,000 during the next four years.
“Let’s talk about two individuals. What will we save by cutting them off — a couple thousand at the most,” said Betta, who disputes the estimated savings.
“Loyalty to your people is more important than saving a few thousand dollars when you have a $40 million budget,” Betta said, after the meeting.
The commissioners plan to hire part-time employees to do the work for a similar paycheck — about $10,000 annually, according to Vatavuk. The savings will be realized by eliminating benefits.
Debate over the legality of the law is ongoing. The Pennsylvania State Association of Jury Commissioners has filed an appeal that is before the state Supreme Court.
The commissioners have offered to hire Miller and Musser in their same roles under the new terms, Vatavuk said.