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Published: Saturday, 6/12/2010

Layoff notices handed to 16 in sheriff's office

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jim O'Neal, Lucas County jail administrator Jim O'Neal, Lucas County jail administrator
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

In an ongoing effort to fill a more than $1.1 million budget hole, the Lucas County Sheriff's Office distributed 16 layoff notices Friday to employees throughout the department.

Jail Administrator Jim O'Neal confirmed that notices were personally handed out, giving a 14-day warning to employees.

"We have a [budget] number that we have to meet, and this is a way to get there," Mr. O'Neal said. He said the department has been working with the union, but the notices were released because "we weren't coming to any concessions yet."

Officials said beginning July 4, the start of a pay period, the department would save $16,946 per notice for a total of about $271,000.

Mr. O'Neal said the layoffs are among the many moves the departments has made to work within its $33,244,892 budgeted to the department in 2010. More savings resulted from reductions in overtime, voluntary furlough days, and service agreements with area townships.

In early May, county officials said the sheriff's office was spending too much money and asked Sheriff James Telb to live within his budget.

Kevin Helminski, a finance officer for the sheriff's office, said the Board of County Commissioners recently allocated $262,000 to the sheriff's budget, which helped reduce what had been a nearly $1.5 million deficit.

That means the department must cut more than $800,000 to reach its 2010 budget, he said.

Sheriff Telb could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ken Lortz, regional director for Ohio for the United Auto Workers, which represents the sheriff's employees, said he is concerned about what cuts in staff will mean for the safety of both the officers and the public. He said that the union started discussions with the sheriff nearly a year ago "to find ways to work it out."

But Mr. Lortz said that every time the department and the union reached some sort of understanding, "it gets knocked down at the commissioners' level."

"We have done a number of things that should have had a positive impact on the sheriff's budget," he said. "No matter what we do, it seems like it doesn't matter."

County Commissioner Ben Konop said that the UAW recently had approached the commissioners in executive session with several proposed concessions - including a wage reduction and furlough package Mr. Konop said would've averted the need for layoffs. The commissioners tabled the UAW's proposal.

"The problem I have with [sheriff's department layoffs] is that you're playing games with public safety," he said. "The bargaining unit and the sheriff came to the table in good faith and they were just shrugged off."

Commissioner Pete Gerken countered that it was a matter of money that delayed response to the proposal. He said the county would receive its sales tax revenue projections Tuesday - information he said would be necessary to determine if elected officials may be asked to cut more from their respective departments.

"I said that I would love to look at this, but I can't, in good conscience, promise something that I can't deliver," Mr. Gerken said.

County Administrator Peter Ujvagi said each of the county's departments has made significant cutbacks this year. He said the county could not promise the sheriff no cuts and expect other elected officials to potentially make more reductions.

But Mr. Lortz said the sheriff's department is unlike other departments.

"I can bring it home with the tornadoes this past week. It wasn't the commissioners' office or recorder's office or auditor's office that was out there, it was the sheriff's office," he said. "… It's a matter of priorities. … I just have a tremendous concern for the safety of the officers and the safety of the public."

The sheriff's 2010 budget is divided into five categories: public safety-court security, $3.8 million; law enforcement, $3.8 million; administration, $2.9 million; corrections center or jail, $21.3 million, and medical corrections center, $1.5 million. Salaries, the biggest chunk of the $3.8 million law enforcement budget, stood at 48.7 percent spent as of the end of the first quarter.

Though no more layoff notices were announced yesterday, it is still a possibility, Mr. O'Neal said. The department previously said about 70 layoffs would be needed to meet the sheriff's budget.

"We're going to continue to cut," he said. "There could be more layoffs down the line."

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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