These contracts virtually mirror the previous deals ratified in 2019.
The days of protracted and contentious negotiations appear to be over, Maj. Mike Craft said it only took one informal meeting, a second negotiating session and one meeting with the attorneys present.
“It was in record time, we’ve been very proud of relationship we’ve had with the union over the last two contracts...,“ Craft said. “Real proud of the relationship that the sheriff has with the union and the men, that bodes well for that. You don’t see contract negotiations hardly ever that there isn’t a lot of bickering and arguing back and forth. I just think we’re up front and honest from the beginning and so are they.”
According to the new contract the pay range for deputies this year is $56,709 to $75,519 and there are eight steps from rookie to the top range. The range for sergeants is $79,740 to $93,580 and lieutenants’ pay goes from $91,737 to $107,612 in seven years.
The step increases for deputies start out in the $3,500 range in the beginning but gradually decrease by year to around $1,500.
The commissioners instituted a pay-for-performance plan several years ago, rather than automatic pay hikes. They tried to get the unions to comply and for the most part they have, Craft said law enforcement is just different and a traditional merit pay program wouldn’t work for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is every other law enforcement agency uses steps.
“I don’t foresee that ever going away in law enforcement,” Craft said.
The sheriff’s deputies and supervisors adopted a hybrid incentive system in the past two contracts and it will continue. Employees who pass the fitness test, based on SWAT team standards, can earn a $200 bonus, and that number can reach $500.
“We’re excited about that because the more fit the employee is, the more they don’t call in sick, they’re here, they’re healthy,” Craft said previously. “So that was a win-win for both sides.”
Commissioner Don Dixon said the new deal is fair.
“It’s something we can live with and not unexpected and we’ll make it work in the budget,” Dixon said. “They’ve done a good job for us.”
The last time the sheriff and his unions went to the State Employment Relations Board over contract disputes was in 2015 and the issue was the pay-for-performance plan. The county offered a $550 lump sum and up to $1,200 per union member for performance pay. A fact finder decided a 2.5% increase and no performance pay was fair. The supervisors received 1.5%.
“There were times when right or wrong misunderstanding of the county’s fiscal state or what this meant,” Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer said. “Really when you get down to it you look at the comps, the comparables, what are others similarly situated make, that’s the simplicity of contract. You try and be competitive, you don’t want to be the highest. Once you get on the same ground, union and management, it’s easier to understand apples to apples and oranges to oranges. In the past people would cherry pick and that’s not a good way to start.”
There are four other sheriff’s union contracts that will be negotiated this year. Finance Director Vickie Barger budgeted an increase of $815,248 for union wages and 3% or $180,520 for the remainder of the staff this year.