Mediator proposes 3-year contract for Columbia County deputies

April 10, 2019

After almost nine months of negotiation, a mediator has proposed a three-year contract between Columbia County and 36 union-represented officers of the sheriff’s office.

Neither the county board nor the patrol deputies, patrol sergeants and detective sergeants represented by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association has voted on ratification of the contract – partly because county officials don’t yet know how much it will cost.

The pact, proposed by mediator Sue Bauman of Madison, calls for a 2.25 percent across-the-board wage increase for each year 2018, 2019 and 2020, and change in the way detective sergeants are paid for being on call on weekends, said Corporation Counsel Joseph Ruf.

Ruf presented the proposed pact to the County Board’s Human Resources Committee on Friday and the Public Safety and Executive committees on Monday.

The sworn officers, up to the rank of sergeant, are the only Columbia County employees who still bargain collectively for their wages, benefits and employment conditions, Ruf said. The proposed contract does not include other sheriff’s office employees, such as jailers, dispatchers and administrative workers.

The union-represented officers are now working under a contract ratified in 2017, Ruf told the Public Safety Committee on Monday.

When negotiations for the 2019 contract began in July, the county’s opening offer was a one-year contract with a 1 percent pay increase – the same across-the-board increase offered to about 500 other county employees whose wages are set by the county’s job classification and compensation system..

The opening proposal from the WPPA was a multi-year contract, with a 3 percent increase.

The 2.25 percent increase would improve the sheriff’s office compensation for officers, in comparison with other nearby departments, but the wages would still be below those of comparable departments, Ruf said.

When Sheriff Roger Brandner earlier this year asked county officials for at least one additional deputy, he estimated the cost for the new deputy’s wages and benefits at about $81,000.

Ruf noted that Columbia County has traditionally had single-year contracts with deputies, because of the year-to-year uncertainty of the county’s finances.

At Monday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, supervisor Gary Leatherberry of the town of Dekorra asked when the county and the union would need to start negotiating again.

If both the county and the officers ratify the contract as proposed, negotiations for the next contract would start in midyear 2020.

And, the pact would result in back pay to represented officers, for all of 2018 and about half of this year.

Columbia County’s accounting department is now calculating the cost of the contract, Ruf said – and any cost that exceeds the county’s budget would have to come from general fund reserves, Ruf said.

A resolution regarding the contract, which will spell out the costs, is expected to come to multiple committees and the full county board in May, Ruf said.

In a related matter, Brandner told the Public Safety Committee on Monday he is considering changing the color of officers’ uniforms, because the traditional brown clothing is becoming less widely available, more expensive and with a long waiting time for filling an order for a new uniform.

If the department switches to tan or black uniforms, the deputies’ contract would require the county to pay for the new uniforms – something that would affect the department’s budget in whatever year the change might be made.

Right now, Brandner said, the idea is in the exploratory stage.

But all county departments will start next month on planning their proposed budgets for 2020.

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