Legislature Approves Contracts For Deputies, Lieutenants

MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County legislators closed out the 2016 session Wednesday by approving labor contracts with sheriff’s deputies and lieutenants.

Twelve members voted in favor of the five-year agreements while seven voted no during the final meeting.

Members of the Sheriff’s Office were in attendance as they awaited the legislature’s decision. A few deputies, along with County Sheriff Joe Gerace, took to the podium before the vote to urge legislators to approve the contract.

With legislative approval, the contracts for deputies and lieutenants will take effect Jan. 1. Agreements with the county Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, with 63 members, and Supervisor’s Association, with eight members, include wage increase schedules that are slightly different from one another. Those jumps in pay will take effect 2018 as lieutenants will receive a 2 percent increase while deputies will receive a 1.5 percent increase. Both unions ratified their contracts last week.

County and union negotiators agreed to put all active members into a high-deductible plan in exchange for a 20-year retirement plan. The county will  pay a percentage into the retirement system for active members based on tier and plan. Once they retire, the county would no longer pay for that member.

Proponents to the contracts said they’ll provide savings to the county. In addition, they said it avoids any chances of going into binding arbitration if contracts didn’t pass and an agreement wasn’t worked out in the year they’d have to negotiate.

Those voting against the contracts placed concerns over long-term savings and the upfront costs of more than $2 million to move members from a 25-year to a 20-year retirement system.

County Executive Vince Horrigan said law enforcement is facing a different world with the risks they face and pressure they’re under. Overall, Horrigan said it’s a win for the taxpayers and the Sheriff’s Department.

“I’m very excited to be able to see that come to fruition. At the same time, I understand the move from 25 (years) to 20 (years) is hard for some people. We spent a lot of time talking to people and my negotiating team did a lot of work and I credit them,” he said.

Horrigan said the agreements have no impact on consolidation efforts with the city of Jamestown.

“If they want us to contract with them, we’re happy to do that,” he said.

In opposition to the agreements, legislator Charles Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, said there’s a discomfort level on the long-term effects the contracts will have. Nazzaro also said assumptions are being made that individuals will retire at 20 years. But he said that’s not a given.

Nazzaro said the county will also need to put up a one-time sum of $2.6 million upfront to move deputies and lieutenants into the 20-year retirement plan.

“Not one person on this floor asked where are we going to get this. It’s going to come out of fund balance,” Nazzaro said. The county executive said we need to build up fund balance. I had a big issue with $2.6 million (coming) out of the fund balance.”

In addition, Nazzaro said high-deductible costs could go up, and the county funds 100 percent of the premiums.

Legislator Paul Whitford, D-Jamestown, supported the contracts as he said retirement was imperative for officers. Whitford also said it fits the county’s focus to control a structural deficit.

“I’ve been involved in negotiations for a good share of my life. Personally, I’d like to commend both sides of the bargaining teams,” he said.

Legislator George Borrello, R-Irving, supported the contracts as he said it will bring savings to the county while staving off any possibility of going into binding arbitration. On the other side, legislator Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, voted no as he placed concerns with the 20-year pension plan and the assumptions over retirement and health care savings.

“I think that they may be overly optimistic. I also have concerns taking $2.6 million from our fund balance for an upfront payment to the state retirement fund,” he said.

Tim Kindberg, county Sheriff’s Supervisor Association president, and Tina Holtz, county Deputy Sheriffs’ Association president, each took to the podium to commend the legislature for their support.

“I realize these are difficult votes. You (legislators) walk a fine line between constituents concerns and needs and interests of the county. I appreciate the support,” Kindberg said.

“It’s a win-win for everybody, the taxpayers, the deputies and lieutenants,” Holtz said, adding a 20-year retirement plan will allow deputies to move on to other careers.”

Other legislators voting against the agreements were Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point; Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia; Lisa Vanstrom, R-West Ellicott; P.J Wendel, R-Lakewood; and Dave Wilfong, R-Jamestown.