Local governments love to explain how there is so little in their budgets that is actually under their control.
The state mandates retirement costs. Health insurance companies dictate payments. State and federal mandates mean certain programs have to be offered with limits as to the aid given to pay for the program. In many cases, local elected officials are right.
What is disappointing is when they have direct control over something and cede control.
Such seems to be the case with an agreement between Chautauqua County and the 120 employees of CSEA Unit 6323 who work in the county jail. The County Legislature will vote on a contract today that includes 8 percent pay raises for 2014-17 and no retroactive raises for 2012 or 2013. Negotiators were able to secure about $188,537 in savings by changing an overtime accrual policy, mandatory enrollment in health care plans for new hires and making a higher-deductible health plan available.
Even with those savings, the county will be on the hook for an additional $232,000 a year - and $1,393,780 over the life of the contract. A recently approved contract for deputy sheriffs will cost an estimated additional $175,000 per year from 2012-16. That's nearly $500,000 a year in added employee costs, if you're keeping score.
The deputy sheriffs' contract can be swallowed more easily knowing the added $175,000 a year in the contract agreement likely would have been much higher had the negotiations proceeded to binding arbitration. The jail employees aren't subject to binding arbitration. While the deputy sheriffs' contract had to be negotiated with the threat of binding arbitration hanging over it, the contract up for discussion today with the jail employees' isn't subject to binding arbitration. If there is no chance of having an even more costly agreement foisted upon the county by an outside arbitrator, then why the rush?
John Runkle, R-Stockton, is right to be worried about the direction in which the county is heading. The 120 jail workers earn an average wage of $48,500 with at least 10 members making more than $60,000 a year. Rather than worrying about "being fair" to employees, perhaps municipal workers need to see things through the eyes of their taxpaying brethren and be happy to have a job. We can think of 475 families who would be more than glad to bring in what CSEA Unit 6233 workers are making now.
We understand the county can't control much of its budget, but the county must better manage the things it does control. The CSEA Unit 6323 contract is hardly beneficial to taxpayers.