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Published: Wednesday, 9/15/2010

Lucas Co. OKs new pact with its deputies

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Noncommand deputies in the Lucas County Sheriff's Department will be able to keep their jobs at least until the end of next year under an agreement approved Tuesday by all three county commissioners.

The pact, which deputies agreed to Friday by a 200-177 margin, immediately halts the layoffs of 20 deputies that had been slated to happen within the next two weeks. The sheriff's office will keep minimum staffing levels at 389 deputies, avoiding layoffs through 2011.

In return, deputies either will take unpaid furlough time - 29 hours this year and 115 hours next year - or waive holiday pay. In 2011, they'll have the choice of waiving stress and uniform allowances to reach the goal of giving up 115 hours of pay.

The contract changes are expected to save the county $2.8 million, equaling 81 percent of the budget cuts the sheriff's office needed to plug the county's deficit, Commissioner Pete Gerken said. Negotiations with the department's command officers and nurses to cover the remaining 19 percent are ongoing, he said.

Mr. Gerken and Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak applauded the deputies, their union representatives, and the sheriff's department for reaching the pact and said both sides had made the best of a difficult situation.

"There are no easy decisions in a time of recession and there were certainly no easy decisions with this contract," Ms. Skeldon Wozniak said. "The concessions they made are amazing and I thank them."

Commissioner Ben Konop, while approving the contract changes, accused his colleagues of forcing the concessions and said overall cutbacks to the sheriff's office have been too harsh and endanger public safety. About 70 deputy positions have been eliminated since 2007, he said.

"I think that these cuts are too severe," Mr. Konop said.

The commissioner proposed transferring $500,000 from the county's reserve funds to the sheriff's department to help it cope with the cutbacks. His proposal was knocked down by Ms. Skeldon Wozniak and Mr. Gerken, who said the county couldn't afford it.

"I'm not going to promise people things we can't pay for," Mr. Gerken said. "We've got an agreement in place. We're going to honor it. We're not going to tinker with it after the fact."

Ms. Skeldon Wozniak said the county's reserve funds are being used to cover payroll expenses month to month.

"The $500,000 isn't there," she said. "If it's not there, it's not there."

Mr. Konop argued that reserve funds have been used to pay for other nonemergency items in the past. He said providing the extra financial help to the sheriff's department was a matter of priorities.

"I chose the priority of public safety," Mr. Konop said, accusing the other commissioners of "a serious disconnect when it comes to the reality on the ground."

Also at Tuesday's meeting, Mr. Gerken withdrew a resolution to disband the Dog Warden Advisory Committee, a body that has helped overhaul the county's dog policies. He said he made the decision after receiving word from dog warden Julie Lyle and committee members that they plan to wind down voluntarily by the end of January.

A vote on a second resolution to continue the committee through the next two years was tabled by Mr. Konop pending the outcome of an independent review of the matter by the committee members, who meet today.

"I think the dog warden's advisory committee provides a very valuable service to the community and I think they should be allowed to serve at no cost to taxpayers for as long as they feel they can make a positive impact on the dog warden's department, and mainly focus on increasing adoption rates," Mr. Konop said. "I think it's important to utilize their expertise for as long as possible."

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.



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