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Pay plan a bad idea, Pima County sheriff's union says
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Pay plan a bad idea, Pima County sheriff's union says

The union representing Pima County sheriff’s deputies is fighting a proposed pay plan it says was presented as a raise, but will actually cost employees money in the long run.

On Dec. 30, bureau chief Karl Woodridge sent an email to all commissioned personnel proposing an adjustment to the department’s pay package. The email, which the Star obtained through a public-records request, included a ballot for employees to vote to accept or reject the proposal.

Fraternal Order of Police President Tyke Manoleas followed up with an email to employees, recommending they not sign the ballot.

“As this ballot could be legal and binding, until we get further recommendations from our legal counsel, it’s not reasonable to sign one way or the other,” he wrote.

Sgt. Kevin Kubitskey, president of the Pima County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, which represents deputies, sergeants and corrections officers, said he’s never seen a ballot attached to any type of proposal sent to department members.

Kubitskey has appeared before the Board of Supervisors many times in recent months to speak about the unions’ concerns with the plan.

The plan proposed a swap in the county’s contribution to employees’ retirement plan for a pay raise, but will actually cost deputies money, Kubitskey said.

Currently, the county pays 3.65 percent into pensions, while the employee is responsible for 8 percent. The ballot asked for the employees’ consent to receive a 3.65 percent increase in pay, but they would contribute the full 11.65 percent to their retirement plan.

Kubitskey said while the proposal seemed reasonable at first, a breakdown of the numbers revealed that with the increased salaries, employees would pay more in taxes and lose money in the long run.

The proposed swap violates Arizona statutes, Kubitskey told supervisors in a recent meeting.

Emails obtained by the Star indicate the department’s command staff was willing to seek approval for the transfer plan even though there was apparent widespread disapproval among deputies.

Sheriff Chris Nanos wrote in a Jan. 1 email to members of the command staff that he didn’t understand why the deputies would be against the plan.

Chief Deputy Christopher Radtke recommended in an email that the department proceed with the plan, and if it was voted down, “so be it.” Woolridge indicated in an email the feedback he’d received from employees indicated the vote wouldn’t go well.

The union’s attempts to discuss the issues with senior staff members were unsuccessful, resulting in an email from command staff, saying that the department was moving ahead with the plan without any explanation, according to an email Kubitskey wrote to Nanos in late January.

The topic of pay packages and the transfer plan was brought up during a two-hour meeting Nanos held with deputies on Feb. 26, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by the Star.

“Nanos asked for the meeting,” Kubitskey said, when asked how it came about. “He wanted the opportunity to talk to the individual deputies before the upcoming (sheriff’s) election.”

During the first several minutes of the meeting, Nanos told attendees that his No. 1 goal is to increase deputy pay, but that he wasn’t looking at the department’s budget to come up with the money for pay increases.

“I’m not doing anything to save any money for you to get step raises,” he said, according to the recording obtained by the Star. “The only thing I’m doing is working with the board and (county administrator) Chuck Huckelberry to get decompression.”

“Decompression” is a plan that would adjust deputies’ pay to bring them up to the proper level of the department’s pay scale, which would bring their pay more in line with other law-enforcement agencies. The Board of Supervisors had approved such adjustments before, but denied the union’s request last summer for another departmental adjustment.

The letter Kubitskey sent Nanos indicates a deadline of Feb. 29 for the department or county to propose a reasonable pay package. Kubitskey said he’s working with members of the Board of Supervisors and that the deputy union has extended the deadline to mid-March.

In response to the department’s proposal, the union submitted its own pay proposal, asking for a 5 percent pay increase, instead of the 3.65.

The union has been fighting since last summer for the department and county to follow through on increases in salary, or “step increases,” that employees were promised years ago. The proposed transfer plan is independent of any other proposals related to an increase in pay, Woolridge wrote in the ballot.

Starting pay for deputies and corrections officers is $43,370 a year. The-top paying agency in the state, the Tempe Police Department, starts its officers at $56,742.

Nanos said he’s been working with Huckelberry since last July, trying to figure out how to get decompression for the nearly 750 deputies and corrections officers who are eligible.

“The way it is now, we have 10-year veterans making the same money as brand-new deputies,” Nanos said. “That’s wrong.”

During those discussions, Huckelberry told him that the retirement contributions were hurting the county and that the transfer plan would help the county’s budget out in the long run, easing the cost of decompression.

“If it helps the county, and helps make my guys whole (in pay), then I agree with it,” he said, explaining why the plan was proposed.

After the labor groups expressed their concerns, Nanos said he and the command staff met with the union heads to talk about what happened, but no agreement was made between the 3.65 proposed and the 5 percent the union proposed.

“I said, ‘Let’s just take it off the table and do decompression,’” he said, stressing that the labor groups have told him for two years that decompression is their No. 1 concern.

After he made the decision to scrap the transfer plan, he learned from his finance staff that the cost of decompression would actually increase by roughly $700,000 without the transfer plan.

“I told the group at the meeting (on Feb. 26), ‘If you want your pay proposal instead of decompression, tell me,’” he said. “But as long as they want decompression, I can’t support their pay proposal.”

Depending on the employee’s time of employment, each would receive between a 5 and 35 percent pay raise under decompression, though most would be in the 5 to 15 percent range, Nanos said.

In addition to decompression, he’s also seeking a 2 percent raise for the 250 deputies and corrections officers who are already topped out on the pay scale.

Nanos says he knows the $7.4 million package will be a hard sell to the community because so many people are struggling financially.

“We have to persuade the public that’s lived through all the same tough times as the guys in my department, that my staff should get 5 to 35 percent raises,” he said.

Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at cschmidt@tucson.com or 573-4191. On Twitter: @caitlincschmidt

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