Bedford County’s sheriff told the commissioners on Tuesday that low wages for his deputies are threatening his office’s ability to operate.
Sheriff Charwin Reichelderfer said during the county’s salary board meeting that he is losing trained deputies to higher paying jobs and asked the board to consider a $2 per hour wage increase in his department.
“Within the last 3 months I’ve lost three of my senior full-time deputies,” Reichelderfer said. “The reason is lack of money.”
The commissioners during their regular meeting approved Deputy Sheriff Brian Kaszubski moving from full-time to part-time employment. Reichelderfer said Kaszubski is leaving for a higher-paying job, making him the fifth deputy to leave full-time duty in the past nine months.
While the sheriff asked for a raise for his deputies, the commissioners said any potential salary adjustments will have to wait until a new collective bargaining agreement because the county cannot amend its deal with the deputies’ labor union, the Bedford County Court Related Association.
Commissioner Josh Lang said the county received a letter from its labor counsel stating counties cannot increase pay in a deal they had previously made in collective bargaining.
“So the idea is elected officials cannot agree to make moderate pay during collective bargaining and then revise the deal later to give extra pay when it is more politically palatable to do so,” he said.
The county and union agreed to a new labor deal in September 2017. Commissioner Barry Dallara said that agreement provided deputies a starting hourly wage increase from $10.70 to $11.20.
“Once we settle on an agreement, we can’t go back and adjust the document,” Dallara said.
The deal ends at the end of this year. Lang said the county and union will begin negotiations by June.
Dallara said the county will also have to keep in consideration the salaries of employees in other county departments during the next round of labor negotiations.
Reichelderfer, who is not seeking re-election as sheriff and is running for commissioner, said he is running out of ideas on how to attract and retain employees to the office. He said the next sheriff could have a staffing problem by the beginning of next year.
“They may be coming into an office with nobody there,” he said.
The sheriff’s office has six full-time deputies. It is approved to have nine. It also will have seven part time deputies, counting Kaszubski, but Reichelderfer said it is often difficult to schedule those deputies because they work other jobs. He noted Kaszubski wouldn’t be available until July due to training at his new job.
Dallara said the county is competing with other industries for workers in a growing economy. He said the job market is “as good as it has been in years,” and that it started to grow over the past 15 months.
“We have another negotiation process to through,” he said. “We’re hoping to find savings other places that will help us have a better wage come the new contract. In the interim it’s going to be a challenge.”
Commissioner Paul Crooks said the county’s wages don’t tell the whole story, saying the county offers better health insurance and retirement plans than many other industries.
“Millennials don’t care about health insurance because they think they’ll be around a long time,” he said. “They don’t care about retirement, either.”
Crooks said increases in raises in the next contract could come with increases in benefit costs for employees.
Reichelderfer after the meeting said the median wage for sheriff deputies in other sixth class counties in the state is $16.42 per hour.
“I would venture to say I have the lowest paid deputy sheriffs in the state of Pennsylvania,” he said.
Kaszubski is earning $13.22 per hour after about seven years of full-time employment with the county. Eight of the 13 deputies listed on the county’s payroll earn less than $13 per hour. The highest paid deputy, Chief Deputy Diane Nelson, earns $17.43 per hour.
The turnover of deputies also comes at a cost to the county. Reichelderfer said the mandatory academy through the state Commission on Crime and Delinquency costs up to about $10,000 per deputy.
He said the 19-week academy also is a burden on the office because it removes the deputies from work for an extended period of time.
“It’s five full-time months,” he said.
He said recertification training for the county’s deputies at the end of the month will difficult to manage while the office is understaffed.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do for us to function in the court system,” he said.
The commissioners at their meeting also approved submitting a revision request to the state Department of Community and Economic Development to reduce Community Development Block Grant funding for the fiscal year 2016 Borough of Everett Area Municipal Authority sewer laterals project by $43,900 and create a 2016 Wood-Broad Top-Wells water and sewer plants project.
Terry Stacey, county administrator for CDBG funds, said the sewer laterals project was overfunded, while the Wood-Broad Top-Wells project came in over its expected budget.
The commissioners also approved a proclamation recognizing Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month on behalf of Your Safe Haven. The proclamation stated one in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, which exceeds victimization rates for any other types of violence affecting youth. Only a third of teens in abusive relationships tell anyone, the proclamation said.