MAYVILLE – The Chautauqua County Legislature voted 12 to 7 Wednesday night in favor of a new 5-year collective bargaining agreement for both the Sheriff’s Deputies and the Sheriff’s Lieutenants. The new contract includes no wage increase in 2017; a 1.5 percent increase in 2018 and 2019; and a 2 percent increase in 2020 and 2021. It also places all active members into a high-deductible health plan while the county would provide a 20-year retirement plan.
Legislators who voted in favor of the new contract felt that it was a fair deal for both the county and the unions. Among those who supported it was Paul whitford (D-Jamestown).
“In this contract the retirement was imperative for the officers. They’re in harm’s way. When you have an earlier turnover, it creates openings for a younger group coming in,” Whitford said. “The county’s focus, since I’ve been in the legislature, is to maintain control of a structural deficit and I think this contract goes a long way in doing that.”
Another supporter of the contract was Ron Lemon (R-Frewburg), who said he was opposed to changing the retirement option from 25 to 20 years, but said it wasn’t enough for him to vote against it.
“There are some pros. One is the savings from the health insurance part of the package and the other would be the rate of salary increase,” Lemon said. “But I also want to commend the [unions] for negotiating in goo faith, coming in. I understand there were about 36 things that were brought to the table, but they were pretty lenient with them, which was good to hear.”
Those who voted against the contract were Terry Niebel (R-Sheridan), Bob Scudder (R-Fredonia), Lisa Vanstrom (R-Ellicott), PJ Wendel (R-Lakewood), and David Wilfong (R-Jamestown). In addition, both Pierre Chagnon (R-Bemus Point and Chuck Nazzaro (D-Jamestown) – who serve as the chair and vice-chair of the county’s audit and control committee – voted against it. Following the meeting, Nazzaro said he voted no because there was still too many questions left on the table.
“I guess what it comes down to is a discomfort level with the long-term effect of this contract and also the long term assumptions in there. For example, they’re assuming people are going to retire at 20 years, and that’s not a given. Also, they are going to be in a high deductible plan [for health insurance]. High deductible plans still go up in cost and the county funds 100 percent of the premium for the plan, granted, the member pays for the deductible,” Nazzaro explained.
Nazarro also said there was an upfront cost with the deal that he has concerns with.
“We have to put upfront costs to buy into the new pension,” Nazzaro said. “That cost for the deputies and the lieutenants is $2.6 million. Not one person on this floor tonight asked, ‘where are we going to get that $2.6 million?’ We did ask that in our discussion [in audit and control] and it’s going to have to come out of fund balance, and I have in issue of taking that money out of fund balance. You’ve heard the county executive say we need to build our fund balance and stick with our deficit reduction committee plan, so I had a big issue with taking that money out of fund balance.”
Despite concerns from several legislators, County Executive Vince Horrigan, who helped to negotiate the final contract, said he felt it was the best compromise possible, including moving retirement from 25 to 20 years.
“At the end of they day, it’s a win for the tax payers. It’s a win for the sheriff’s department. And it’s a new approach and I’m very excited to see that come into fruition,” Horrigan explained. “At the same time, I understand moving from 25 years to 20 years is hard for some people, and I understand that, so our negotiating team of budget director Kitty Crow and HR director Joe Porpiglia did a lot of work and I credit them for this.”
Following the vote, president of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association Tina Holtz said she and the union members were very pleased the contract was approved, and also explained why moving the retirement option from 25 to 20 years was so important.
“I think there’s several reasons,” Holtz said. “One, it brings us into line with other agencies in this county and the surrounding counties. It’s also, if you pay attention to the news, a different world out there and we’re ready to go at 20 years. We really need to be moving through and onto another career.”
Both unions have already ratified the tentative contract. Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace along with two deputies also spoke before the vote in support of the contract.
NEW CONTRACT SHOULD HAVE A MINIMAL IMPACT ON CONSOLIDATION STUDY
The terms of the new contracts shouldn’t have an impact on a possible consolidation of public safety services between the county and city of Jamestown. That’s according to Horrigan, who addressed the issue following Wednesday night’s vote.
“We’ve been working with [Mayor Sam Teresi] and the unions have been working together to give us their concerns, and we think we have a good law enforcement team. If [the city] wants us to contract with them, as we do in other places, we’re happy to do that,” Horrigan said. “There’s some unique things about chain of command in the city and some unique issues that they have, but we don’t think this will have a real bearing on that, directly.”
That police consolidation study is still being finalized and there’s no guarantee it would be accepted by the city council or the county legislature. The basic premise of the proposed consolidation is to have the Sheriff’s office provide deputies to work in Jamestown, replacing Jamestown Police officers as they retire or leave the force. The transition would result in a savings for the city at no additional cost to the county.
Consultants with the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) consulting firm out of Rochester have been hired to look into the feasibility of such a plan, with funding provided by the state.