Nathan Mayberg | Democrat
THE SULLIVAN COUNTY Sheriff’s Department Patrol PBA members are all smiles after securing a contract with the county on Wednesday. They are, from the left: President Paul Slavic, Vice President Phil Etkin, Secretary Eric Breihof, Sergeant At Arms Jason Gorr, Undersheriff Eric Chaboty and Sheriff Michael Schiff.
Road Patrol Secures Contract After Three Years Wait
By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO December 29, 2006 After three years of working without a contract, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department Road Patrol finally has reached a deal with the county which will give deputies raises retroactive to 2004 and through the end of 2007.
The agreement, approved unanimously by the Sullivan County Legislature Wednesday, marks the end to a battle which went public after negotiations stalled to such a point, that binding arbitration was ordered. The sides eventually met in arbitration last October, but were ultimately able to reach a deal independent of the arbitration.
Deputies will receive raises of one and a half percent for every six months of the past three years, as well as a $3,000 raise for each year including 2007. The starting pay for a first-year deputy will rise from exactly $29,531 to $41,820. By the end of 2007, their pay will rise to $46,164 according to figures provided by the county. Pay for sergeants will climb over $60,000 and near the $70,000 plateau in some cases.
That will change the department’s position as being one of the lowest paid police departments in the county to one of the highest paid. Department leaders also expect the new salaries to attract new recruits and stem the tide of deputies out of the department. Over the last two years, the department has lost a dozen officers, which was largely attributed to their low pay.
In addition, the agreement stipulates that deputies be offered participation in the county’s dental and vision insurance plan. Previously, the deputies were one of the only branches of the county government precluded from the plan. Even the legislators have access to the plan.
Naturally, leaders of the Sullivan County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association were elated. President Paul Slavic, who took over the reins of the PBA at the beginning of the year and engaged in a public feud with Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham, praised the legislators for finally agreeing to the deal.
“It’s been a long road. It’s been a long haul,” said Slavic. The PBA agreed to the deal last Friday. Slavic also gave credit to new County Manager David Fanslau for being realistic about the salaries and the need to protect the public’s safety.
Vice President Phil Etkin said there would have been major crisis had the department not seen its raises. With slated openings in local police departments, the Sheriff’s patrol could have lost even more men this year. Slavic said they were even considering cutting their after-midnight shift.
Currently, the department has 34 deputies and half a dozen openings which are budgeted. It is already receiving inquiries about those positions. When the department was experiencing turnover, the cost was especially high to the county, which had to pay between $30,000-$40,000 to train each new officer only to see them leave after a year or two.
With the new staff, there will be more patrols and better coverage, said Etkin. Morale has been boosted immediately and Etkin thinks the professionalism will be maintained at a high level now.
Both men said Sheriff Michael Schiff and Undersheriff Eric Chaboty were instrumental in working out the deal with the county. “The sheriff lived up to his campaign promises,” said Etkin.
All is not over for the PBA. It will have to go back to the drawing board to renegotiate in six months. And they are still fighting to be protected as an agency in the county’s charter. So far, they have received broad support from the charter review commission and several legislators.
And they still have to deal with a county seemingly soaked with crime from one end to the other. Etkin said that gang activity, based on the drug trade, is at an all-time high, stretching throughout the county. He described the gang problem as “overwhelming,” with gangs emulating or actually connected to the “Bloods” and “Crips.” Gun activity in Monticello is also at a historic peak. Recently, the Sheriff and District Attorney’s office formed a gang task force in conjunction with the other local police departments a step in the right direction, said Etkin.
Schiff said he would “like to thank Dave Fanslau and Chris Cunningham and the legislature for taking an active role in bringing the Sheriff’s Road Patrol up to parity with the surrounding agencies. They understand that the deputies have been underpaid for too many years. This will keep us from losing deputies to other agencies within the county.”
Legislator Ron Hiatt, who has been the most vocal supporter of the department throughout the negotiations, called the agreement “overdue… their incomes were disproportionate to their counterparts.”
Fanslau released a statement in which he said “This agreement represents a commitment by the County to place a priority on Public Safety services. The Sheriff’s Road Patrol deputies are an integral part of the Public Safety priority.” However, he said the long-term fiscal stability for public safety in the county will require new revenue from a hike in the sales tax.