By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO February 12, 2002 With police officers picketing the government center in Monticello yesterday, it was clear that Sullivan County and the Sullivan County Sheriff's Deputies PBA have reached a contract impasse.
The last contract expired on December 31, 2000. Over the past 13 months, negotiations have been ongoing between the two sides. The issue holding up a contract agreement is over salary. The PBA represents 35 members of the Patrol and two members of the Civil division.
Compared to other police departments, the Sheriff's Deputies make the least amount of money. Thus, many of the deputies end up going to other departments for more money.
For example, after four years on the force, Monticello police officers make $50,933 a year. Liberty Police officers, after four years, earn $44,478. After four years, Ulster County Sheriff's Deputies earn $40,097. After four years, Fallsburg Police make $42,816. State Troopers, after five years on the force, earn $51,115. And after four years of service, the Sheriff's Deputies in Sullivan County earn $30,900.
The PBA is looking for salary parity.
"We want comparable pay to other departments," commented PBA Vice President Jason Gore. "We are here to stay. We want to protect people throughout Sullivan County. We urge the public to talk to the Legislature. It is our only recourse."
"We want to make the community safe for our children," remarked PBA President Ed Clouse. "We get paid 32 to 19 percent less than other agencies. We have a 17-year veteran who is getting public assistance. We are held to the highest standards and get the lowest pay."
Both the PBA and the county have agreed on all other issues. The PBA has even agreed to participate in random drug and alcohol testing. But the two sides could not agree on the salary issue.
The county's labor attorney, Jim Romer, sent a letter to the PBA last week declaring the impasse.
The next step would be for a mediator to come in to help settle the dispute. The mediator may not be chosen or hear both sides for at least a month or two. Whatever decision the mediator makes is not binding. It could be a long time before an agreement can be reached.
The PBA is urging the public to help them. They have sent letters to the legislators and requested one-on-one meetings with them. Off-duty officers were protesting the dispute in the parking lots of the government center on Monday and were expected back this Thursday. They had signs on their trucks expressing their displeasure with the negotiations.
Legislators have been quiet on the issue, choosing instead to allow Romer and County Manager Dan Briggs to handle the matter. Officials close to the situation have stated that they feel the PBA has been offered a fair deal. They agree that parity is necessary but say it cannot come overnight.
"Clearly the legislators recognize the efforts that they [deputies] have made, said Briggs, who met with protestors yesterday morning outside the government center. We try to attract and retain high quality, and we do have the best in law enforcement. I feel it is a fair package that we have offered them, but they have to recognize the economic landscape we have."
The issue is expected to come up in a future legislative committee meeting.