QUEENSBURY - Angered by the recent news coverage of a vote approving a contract that increases Warren County Sheriff Officer's salaries, county supervisors responded this week that the contract they negotiated with the Police Benevolence Association is in the best interests of taxpayers.
Twelve supervisors voted to pass the contract, which will increase the salaries of first-year deputies from $29,500 to $31,565 annually.
In the days following the Nov. 21 vote, commentaries and editorials in the area daily newspaper, The Post-Star, blasted the supervisors who supported the new contract, even suggesting that they should be voted out of office due to this contract vote.
The contract is retroactive to Jan. 1, and will cost the county approximately $220,000 officials said - but will pay itself off over time, as the county expects to gain nearly $40,000 per year in concessions that are also included in the deal.
The supervisors said this week the pay raise was necessary to both stay competitive with other police agencies, and to cap training costs, as many officers leave relatively soon after their training to receive higher pay elsewhere.
The county invests many thousands of dollars in the six-month training of each new officer prior to their deployment, the county leaders said.
Over the last several years, many officers have left the sheriff's department for more lucrative employment with the state Police and other law enforcement agencies. Officials said that unless a pay raise was adopted the department was at risk of becoming simply a training facility for other law enforcement agencies. Starting salary for a state Police officer is about $65,000 annually.
York said that currently seven county patrol officers had taken the state police entrance exam, passed it, and are now eligible for the next state Police academy session.
County officials also said the prior pay scale did not properly reflect the complexity of the duties and the talent needed to fulfill job requirements.
They suggested that critics of the raise compare the officer's pay rate with starting pay for an untrained county laborer, which is about $25,000 annually.
"The public deserves better from their local newspaper-this week's op/ed was irresponsible and unfair," Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed said Tuesday. "It's not wise just to ignore the complexities of an issue and use it as a linchpin to accuse people of fiscal irresponsibility."
Tuesday, Post-Star Publisher Rick Emanuel responded to the supervisors' complaints. He said that perhaps the supervisors should have put more effort into educating the public about all aspects of the pay rates and negotiations.
"It may have been irresponsible on their part to throw out percentages relating to salary increases without educating the public appropriately," he said.
Goodspeed said that if the contract was voted down, the issue would have been sent to a binding arbitrator, which could have ended up costing the county significantly more than the one-time 7 percent and the following 3.5 percent annual increase in this contract.
"These guys were earning what amounts to $14.18 an hour to do a dangerous and important job," said Warrensburg Supervisor and county budget officer Kevin Geraghty. "We know we can never compete with state Police salaries, but we have to retain the personnel we already have - I feel that the job they do is well deserving of this contract."
Geraghty said that that a first year officer will now earn what amounts to $15.17 an hour per the negotiated deal. In the contract, the PBA conceded issues such as increased personal co-pay for health insurance claims and is a fair deal for taxpayers and officers alike, he said.
"If this vote costs me an election next year so be it," said Queensbury Supervisor-at-large and retired police officer Bill VanNess. "To say these people aren't worth $15 an hour is a slap in the face - because of the job they do they will carry scars for the rest of their lives."
VanNess also said that the issue of binding arbitration concerned him as well.
"I was not willing to gamble with taxpayers' money," he said. "If we had let this thing go to a binding arbitrator that's what it would have been - a gamble."
Supervisors interviewed expressed disappointment at the suggestion that they were fiscally reckless and responded that they were acting in a fiscally conservative manner.
"Kevin Geraghty took on a budget situation that was one of the most difficult ever and carved a potential 10 percent tax increase down to 2.9 percent," Goodspeed said. "I personally have also repeatedly suggested methods to make government leaner-but that never seems to get reported."
Some supervisors said they were surprised by the amount of dissent voiced when the contract was addressed in the open meeting, yet when earlier the deal was hammered out, all the supervisors seemed to be in agreement. Some suggested the dissenting supervisors may have voted against the deal because of the press presence.
"Not one person questioned the PBA deal in executive session," VanNess said. "We got 'back door-ed.'"
Voting against the measure was Queensbury Supervisors Dan Stec and David Strainer, Bolton Supervisor Kathleen Simmes and Glens Falls Supervisors Bud Taylor, William Kenny and Daniel Girard.
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairmen Fred Monroe said the contract amount wouldn't amount to much in extra taxes to local citizens, although it would over time boost the prevailing caliber of officers.
"The dollar amount is not huge," Monroe said of the $220,000 price tag, which he said was a small portion of a $139 million county budget. "It is imperative that we stay competitive with other agencies in the region-I view this as a necessary adjustment."