Commissioners to set guidelines for deputies

Deputies could appeal to the commissioners if denied disability benefits.
MERCER, Pa. -- Mercer County commissioners plan to adopt guidelines at their meeting Thursday for including 12 to 17 part- and full-time deputy sheriffs in the state heart and lung disability program.
Recent state legislation has mandated effective Jan. 1 that deputies be added to the list of police already covered under the program. County corrections officers employed at the jail are the only other county employees already in the program.
Solicitor Mark Longietti said the program requires the county to pay full salary to officers who are temporarily disabled by injuries received while on the job. Should their disability become permanent, they would be covered by other programs.
The guidelines to be adopted Thursday will only set up an appeals process for the program. Longietti said these guidelines make the county commissioners the first avenue of appeal for those denied benefits through the program. Further appeals would be made to common pleas court.
Commissioner Olivia Lazor said the "guidelines allow us to maintain a semblance of control" over the program. Commissioners are unsure what impact the program will have here.
Commissioner Brian Beader noted that the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania opposed inclusion of deputies in the program because of the uncertain financial impact it could have on counties.
Lazor said one study showed a low impact on counties but said there is not much data. At an earlier meeting, commissioners had expressed concern because deputy sheriffs are often retired law enforcement officers and because they are older, could have more health complications than the average law enforcement officer. The program will supplant the county's own disability program, which already covers the deputies.

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