By Ed Runyan
With Trumbull County officials and the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association failing to reach an agreement on their own, a conciliator made the decision to award pay raises for 62 corrections officers at the county jail.
Conciliator Nels E. Nelson of Geauga County gave raises of 35 cents per hour for 2017, 30 cents in 2018 and 30 cents in 2019.
It amounts to a pay raise of between 1.5 percent and 2.2 percent the first year, depending on length of service, and between 1.5 percent and 1.8 percent in the second and third years.
Maj. Dan Mason, jail administrator, calculated the cost to the county of the raises to be about $45,000 this year and about $39,000 in 2018 and 2019.
The conciliator also thwarted the county commissioners’ efforts to reduce the amount of pension pickup the county pays for employees – a recommendation from a citizens budget review committee – by ordering the county to provide the same pension pickup to all of its corrections officers.
Under the previous agreement, the county picked up 8.5 percent of the employees’ share of his or her pension for those hired before the 2010 contract but 4 percent of the pension pickup for those hired after 2010.
The conciliator said he “understands the employer’s desire to reduce or eliminate the pension pickup, [but] the continuing disparity has complicated the bargaining process and the time has come to end the problems associated with having significantly different levels of compensation for employees doing the same work.”
The county commissioners voted to approve the new contract several weeks ago but would not release details until this week, when all of the parties to the agreement had signed it.
The conciliator’s report, from August and obtained by The Vindicator through a public-records request, contains a long section discussing the county’s ability to pay and the arguments put forth by the county auditor’s office and the union.
Though the union stated that the county had a budget surplus of $8.7 million at the end of 2016, the county auditor’s office focused on 14,000 jobs lost at Packard Electric and other steep job losses over the last 25 years, the county’s high unemployment rate and population decline.
The county’s best offer was a 30-cent-per-hour increase in 2017 and 2018 and a reopener for 2019, except that starting employees’ wages would have been frozen at the 2016 rate.
The union cited the SERB 2016 Annual Wage Settlement Report indicating that the average wage increase for Ohio law enforcement in 2016 was 2.36 percent.
It said the average 2016 wage for a 10-year corrections employee in the nine nearby counties was $49,514, but it was $41,277 in Trumbull.
Meanwhile, the county, represented by Debbie Santangelo, deputy county auditor, said the average wage increase in the Youngstown-Warren area was 1.6 percent.
She said Trumbull is one of only four counties in the state that pay a portion of the employees’ pensions, and that benefit should be considered as part of the corrections officers’ compensation.
The conciliator said he chose the union’s pay raise over the county’s because Trumbull County’s economy has improved with sales-tax revenues climbing from 2012 through the first half of 2017 and the county “has limited the growth of expenditures, which has resulted in increasing year-end general-fund cash balances.”
Adding sales tax and casino revenue to the general-fund cash balances total a 2016-year-end balance of $8.7 million, or 19.6 percent of the 2016 general-fund expenditures of $44.6 million, the conciliator said.
The top pay of Trumbull corrections officers ranked last among the four contiguous counties, the conciliator said: $41,277 in Trumbull, $43,556 in Ashtabula, $57,844 in Geauga, $47,956 in Mahoning and $47,813 in Portage.
When pension pickup is included, Trumbull’s compensation is second-lowest behind Ashtabula County with Trumbull being $46,009, Ashtabula $44,796, Geauga $59,595, Mahoning $51,317 and Portage $50,171.