October 4, 2008
Sheriffs contract hung up on officers’ title
County, police union at odds over whether officers are county police or sheriff’s deputies
The outcome of a dispute over the job title of police officers in the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department could have costly implications for taxpayers — to the tune of millions of dollars, one county official said.
The county has considered the road patrol officers deputy sheriffs while the union that represents the officers in ongoing contract negotiations says a civil service title established in 1972 names them county police officers.
A decision to formally designate them county police officers would require the county to pay retroactive retirement contributions back to 1972.
The title dispute is holding up the contract negotiations between the county and the road patrol officers, whose contract expired Dec. 31, 2005. The deputies have been working under the terms of this old contract since then.
The terms of the contract negotiations will affect 31 deputies for the time period of Jan. 1, 2006, to Dec. 31, 2010.
The county has tried to remove the title dispute from the contract negotiations but when the county made a move to do this Sept. 24 by asking the state Supreme Court in Albany to settle the matter, the union asked for more time to reach an agreement.
A Supreme Court hearing date was set for Oct. 8 on the various complaints the county brought against the Public Employee Relations Board and the County Police Association of Cortland County but the association requested more time to reach an agreement.
“They asked for 45 days to go back to the table and negotiate the deal,” County Administrator Scott Schrader said.
Anthony Solfaro, president of the New York State Union of Police Association, which is representing the County Police Association in the negotiations, did not return phone calls for comment regarding the 45-day delay. However, in previous conversations he had mentioned a tentative contract agreement that the union denied Sept. 9. The county had proposed an agreement Sept. 3.
“There was an informational meeting (Sept. 9) and the proposed terms and parameters were not acceptable,” Solfaro said.
Solfaro declined to elaborate on the specifics of the terms that were denied because they are part of the ongoing negotiations.
Schrader said county representatives were not present at the Sept. 9 meeting, which was held solely for the union members to vote on the proposed terms.
Schrader said he received an e-mail from Solfaro Sept. 10 indicating Solfaro could not endorse the deal until his “concerns” were addressed. Schrader said Solfaro stated in the e-mail he would give a written response to the proposal in a matter of days.
Schrader said he did not know what Solfaro’s concerns were and he had not received a written response to the proposal from Solfaro to date.
“The ball is in their court,” Schrader said.
He explained the costly implications of the title change. Currently the deputy sheriffs operate under the New York State Employee Retirement System and must pay 3 percent toward retirement savings for their first 10 years of employment.
“Police officers” are enrolled in the Police and Fire Retirement System and do not have to pay anything toward retirement. As a result, the title change would mean paying the officers retroactively and in perpetuity, an expense that would amount to “tens of millions” of dollars Schrader said.
In addition, the police officers would be entitled to binding arbitration on non-monetary items. This means any disciplinary actions would be given to a third party arbitrator to determine. Currently the county can negotiate these things with the union.
“It would take away some of our ability to negotiate those terms and conditions,” Schrader said.
The current starting salary for the deputy sheriffs is $32,075. Due to the city’s higher salaries, it is common for county officers to transfer to the city within a short time of employment.
Cortland city police officers start at $36,652 and jump to $46,161 after a year. Under a new contract, the deputies will be paid retroactively back to the Jan. 1, 2006, contract date.
Given the new time frame, Schrader said there is still a chance for an agreement to be reached.
“At the end of the 45-day period if we still haven’t reached an agreement we will have to apply to the court for a new date,” Schrader said.
Solfaro said in the past he is hopeful a resolution may be reached at some point to bridge whatever gaps exist.
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