Commissioners react to sales tax editorial

DEAR EDITOR:

Your editorial of May 24 was unfair and also misleading to your reading public.

First, the consent of the county to these raises for the corrections officers was a result of the compulsion to provide similar increases to these corrections officers as we were mandated to provide to other personnel within the sheriff’s office. After five years of wage freezes with the OPBA represented bargaining units 1, 2 and 5 of the sheriff’s office, the sheriff was compelled to participate in the fact-finding / conciliation process required under O.R.C. 4117.14. Hearings began in early August 2014 and continued through mid-December 2014. By law, initially a fact-finder (and subsequently a conciliator) examines the wage rates being paid with those of comparable counties along with other factors. Although the award was substantially less than that sought by the union, the county was unhappy with the conciliator’s decision, but that decision was binding on both the county and the union.

Although the sheriff pressed for more modest increases with the corrections officers’ union, he recognized that a new fact-finder and conciliator would certainly lean upon the earlier findings of two others as to the economics of the area and the adjustments they found warranted within the same sheriff’s office for other law enforcement personnel. This occupation can be quite dangerous. Certainly, the editorial staff has not forgotten the hostage situation we had with corrections officers during that same 2014 year in which this contract was being negotiated.

Our corrections officers accepted years of wage freezes and even agreed to try a lower entry level compensation package for two years to help the sheriff weather the recent recession. We found, however, that we could not retain quality people in those positions at those lower rates and endured significant numbers of resignations and turnovers. Our corrections officers must undergo significant training to do a difficult job. With cutbacks in mental health services, we have a lot more mentally unstable individuals housed in our jails. Our corrections officers are trained in the most appropriate manner in which to deal with these folks as well as some very hardened criminals. Meanwhile, retirees were receiving annual increases to their social security, the minimum wage moved up each of those years in Ohio when these corrections officers had their wages frozen, and there is a massive push in the country to increase the minimum wage for service / fast food workers to $15 an hour. How does one justify leaving these trained, skilled and dedicated workers who provide a critical government service behind while those around them move ahead? The county recognized that after five years of wage freezes, the structure of Ohio law was going to impose a wage increase through the procedures required in O.R.C. 4117.14.

Going to fact-finding and a subsequent conciliation process as we did earlier with three of the sheriff’s other bargaining units is necessary at times to bring to light all of the necessary economic factors to arrive at a fair economic package that recognizes the public interests and taxpayer concerns. Nonetheless, it is a process that puts considerable strain on the sheriff’s office in that the sheriff and supervisors are diverted necessarily from their important statutory duties and functions to focus a substantial amount of their time on these economic circumstances while members of the union’s negotiating team are similarly pulled from their normal employment duties into hearings, stretching thin the already minimum staffing of various departments of the sheriff’s office. Undergoing the arduous process of O.R.C. 4117.14 with the corrections officers under these circumstances would have been a waste of county resources and an act of political cowardice simply to curry favor with local media. We rejected that path.

The county was able to secure a similar agreement without undergoing the statutory hearings and the detrimental staffing that is inherent when those hearing go forward. The county actually had a slightly better result in this instance. Meanwhile, no interest was paid to these employees even though the increased wage rates were not paid throughout 2014 and for the first four months of the 2015 year. To equate paying raises under such circumstances as evidence that an increase in tax revenue is unnecessary is the most base sophistry and a disservice to the public we seek to serve and you purportedly seek to inform.

County office holders recognize that we must live within our means but we also recognize that we must comply with statutory mandates imposed upon us by the state of Ohio. This is true even while the state continues to cut local government funding.

Daniel E. Polivka, president

Frank S. Fuda

Mauro Cantalamessa

Trumbull County Board of Commissioners