By Ed Runyan
A report from a conciliator who last month decided against raises for about 70 Trumbull County sheriff’s employees gave some interesting insights into the county’s financial condition.
Gregory P. Szuter of Cleveland filed his report Dec. 13. He was the second and final conciliator to indicate that the employees should not get raises other than step increases for 2013, which was termed a “wage-reopener” year of the contract that covers 2012 to this year.
Negotiations for a contract for 2015 and beyond have begun.
The report analyzed the wages and benefits for Trumbull deputies with those in two other nearby counties — Mahoning and Ashtabula — which Szuter said he believed were the most comparable. The Trumbull agreement in question also covers about 20 ranking officers, cooks, secretaries, clerks and maintenance people.
He also analyzed the carryover balances Trumbull County has had in recent years, saying they have fallen to a low level.
The top pay rate for 10-year Mahoning County deputies is $46,862, which is 6 percent lower than the Trumbull rate of $49,046, Szuter reported. Trumbull’s rate is 4 percent lower than the Ashtabula County rate of $51,547.
Ashtabula County has the same sales-tax rate as Trumbull — 6.75 percent — but Ashtabula “has had severe budget cuts” and severe layoffs even though its workers were on pay freezes, Szuter wrote.
Mahoning County deputies had wage freezes starting in 2007, and all step increases and other economic items were frozen in 2012. Deputies also suffered layoffs, Szuter noted. Mahoning County’s sales-tax rate is 7 percent.
The Trumbull deputies, who are represented by the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, have not had layoffs, as part of the county’s pledge to keep everyone working as long as they accept wage freezes, he wrote.
The Trumbull workers have been on a wage freeze since 2008 with step increases that increased the wages of workers with less than five years of seniority.
Union representatives were unavailable for comment Thursday.
The Trumbull deputies received a one-time longevity bonus of $58,000 spread out among the 70 members in 2012.
Trumbull workers in general, including those in the sheriff’s office, receive a pension benefit known as “pension pickup” that is “common in the Mahoning Valley communities but not elsewhere in the state,” Szuter said.
Pension pickup refers to the employer paying part of the employee’s share of the employee’s pension, in addition to paying the employer’s share. About 60 corrections officers within the Trumbull sheriff’s office, who are represented by the United Auto Workers union, received a pay increase last year of 25 cents per hour, but that was done at the same time as elimination of a new-hire wage scale created in 2009, Szuter said.
The 25-cent pay increase was done to pay back workers who saved the county $200,000 through their lower wage scale and other concessions for two years, Szuter said.
Trumbull County commissioners said last year they decided to eliminate the lower starting wage for the corrections officers because it was resulting in high turnover.
Szuter called Trumbull, Mahoning and Ashtabula counties “one of the depressed areas of Ohio perhaps second to the Ohio River counties.”
Trumbull County “has room to improve” the pay for deputies when comparing their pay to other counties, but keeping their pay the same is the right decision “based on the local economy,” the report said.
The conciliator could not make his own choice of a pay increase for the deputies. He was allowed to pick only between the deputies’ last offer and the sheriff’s last offer, and he chose the sheriff’s offer.
Adrian Biviano, Trumbull County auditor, says the main indicator for him that raises should not be given is that revenue from sales taxes is “incredibly flat.”
Sales-tax revenue increased 9 percent from 2010 to 2011, 4 percent from 2011 to 2012 and only 2 percent from 2012 to last year — from $23.1 million to $23.6 million, Biviano said.
Commissioner Frank Fuda said the commissioners have believed it was important to avoid layoffs during the economic downtown starting in 2008 “to provide the same service as we have.”