MAYVILLE - A resolution to approve a labor contract between Chautauqua County and part-time sheriff's deputies failed to pass Wednesday's Public Safety Committee meeting.
The resolution will still head to the full-body legislature next week for an official vote.
But before the committee adjourned, Chairman Robert Duff, R-Sheridan, let his fellow legislators know how he felt regarding the resolution's defeat.
"We've backed ourselves right into a corner in regards to protection," Duff said. "... As far as public safety goes, you're taking away what is considered one of the important pieces of Chautauqua County government."
Duff and Legislature Assistant Minority Leader Robert Whitney, D-Jamestown, approved the resolution, which was tabled last month during the legislature's full-body meeting.
Last month, Legislator Bill Coughlin, D-Fredonia, questioned the 22 percent pay increase part-time deputies would receive under their new contract. The deputies, part of CSEA Unit 6322, have been without a contract since 2009.
Legislator Bill Coughlin, D-Fredonia, speaks during a Public Safety Committee meeting in Mayville on Wednesday. The committee failed to pass a labor contract between the county and part-time sheriff’s deputies. To view video of this meeting visit www.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Eric Tichy
Legislator Coughlin; John Hemmer, R- Westfield; and PJ Wendel, R-Lakewood, voted against the resolution.
"We whittled ourselves down to where during the day we can't be covered," Duff said, referring to an undisclosed incident last week where he requested police assistance.
"You have cut public safety in Chautauqua County over the six years," he added. "You have absolutely tied these people's hands behind their back and something's got to be done about it. And I think this legislature has got to understand one way or another.
"Folks, it's time to wise up on this thing, because we live in a very dangerous time. We've had quite a few deaths that have occurred, OK. At least in my district people are keeping their doors locked because we have had a lot of vandalism and break-ins. If we can't afford it, then make the public aware of it, OK. And let them go out there and buy the pistols and do whatever the heck they want to protect themselves."
Before the vote, Sheriff Joe Gerace outlined the contract and broke down the 22 percent pay increase the unit's 25 deputies would receive. The sheriff said the part-time deputies help cover court security, prisoner transports and contracted patrols of county municipalities.
Under the proposed contract, entry-level deputies would see their pay go from $13.41 an hour to $16.33 an hour.
"The contract you are looking at right now is the result of negotiations with the CSEA group," Gerace said.
Comparing costs, Gerace said court officers working alongside part-time deputies make $16.55 an hour; Jamestown court officers make $16.88 an hour, while full-time deputies receive a rate of $25 an hour.
Gerace said after reimbursements for court, municipal contracts and U.S. Marshall's Office come in, the county would be looking at a $7,500 tab to support the new labor contract. Nearly 90 percent of the cost would be absorbed by those reimbursements, he added.
However, if the legislature denies the resolution next week, negotiations are likely to go to binding arbitration a move which could cost the county more money.
"That is a possibility if this doesn't pass," Gerace said. "And as one legislator said, it's a gamble. You never know what the arbitrator will do."
The sheriff said the last contract to go to arbitration resulted in pay increases of 3.8, 3.85 and 3.95 percent, respectively, over three years.
Coughlin, however, argued against the pay raises.
"We're still dealing with a 22 percent increase," he said. "And I think that's a bad precedent."
Gerace responded, noting that an arbitrator may drive up the final contract.
"The decision you are going to make potentially on this contract might come back to be much more expensive than 20 percent," Gerace said.
"But might come back," Coughlin replied. "... I'm having a difficult time (understanding) why we're part-timing these guys, number one."
Coughlin questioned why the county does not charge more for contracted patrols to surrounding municipalities, such as Brocton.
"We're not in the business to make money, we're in the business of providing public safety," Gerace said.