Friday, October 23rd, 2015

A letter unanimously authorized by the seven-member Morris County Board of Freeholders has been sent to Morris County Sheriff Edward V. Rochford advising him that contracts he has negotiated with four labor unions representing his employees would far exceed his budget and could only be implemented through his layoffs of more than two dozen officers and civilian employees over the next two years.

Morris Freeholders Tell the Sheriff  Excessive 25-31 Percent Pay Hikes he Negotiated Far Exceed His Budget -- Layoffs Would Be Required

The letter, signed by Morris County Administrator John Bonanni and sent to Sheriff Rochford on Thursday, explained that pay increases of 25 percent to 31 percent over three to four years negotiated by the sheriff for 2015, 2016 and 2017 with employees in his Division of Law Enforcement would far exceed his budget.

 The freeholders, in the letter, strongly suggest that the sheriff re-negotiate those contracts to bring them proposed salary increases in line with realistic budget numbers and projections. Otherwise, the sheriff was advised that he should begin the process of developing a lay-off plan that would achieve needed savings to allow for pay increases he would like to implement.   

The sheriff previously had been advised by the county, in July, that he would not have enough money to fund proposed salaries if he moved ahead with contracts he had negotiated, and would be faced with having to implement lay-offs.    

If the sheriff were to implement those negotiated new contracts, the budget shortfall would require the sheriff to reduce his workforce by 16 full-time staff members of various ranks and levels in 2016, an additional 11 full-time employees in 2017, and at least one more layoff in 2018, to be able to fit the new salaries into his budget, the letter cautioned.

In the letter, Administrator Bonanni explained that the county treasurer has determined that pay raises negotiated by the Sheriff with Morris County Policemen’s Benevolent Association, Local 151; Morris County Policemen’s Benevolent Association, PBA 151 Superior Officers Associations; Sheriff’s Investigators; and Sheriff’s Civilians would exceed the amount allocated to Sheriff’s Office in the current 2015 county budget by $528,506.

They would result in a projected $905,767 shortfall in 2016 and exceed the anticipated 2017 county budget by $1.3 million. The county factored in anticipated 2 percent budget increase for 2016 and 2017, per Gov. Christie’s 2 percent cap on annual spending increases. 

Any layoff plan would require at least 90 days to implement, so it would be too late for the sheriff to reduce his workforce in 2015 to offset pay hikes that would exceed his current budget.  

The PBA 151 contract negotiated by the sheriff would provide a 25 percent pay increase over three years. The contract negotiated with Sheriff’s Superior Officers would result in a 31 percent pay hike over three years. The contract with Sheriff’s Civilian Employees would result in a 29.4 percent pay hike over four years. 

The freeholders, in the letter, said that a September 2015 suggestion by the sheriff that a “$60 million’’ county surplus fund be used to pay for his negotiated salary increases would not be considered. There is no $60 million fund, they explained and suggested the sheriff meet with the County Auditor to learn the purpose, amount, source and allowed uses of surplus, of fund balances.

The sheriff set up a meeting with the County Auditor to be fully briefed on the issue of surplus, but then cancelled that session and sent surrogates from his office. Administrator Bonanni, in the letter, wrote that the offer is still open to the sheriff to meet personally with the county auditor, so he fully understands the surplus issue. 

The sheriff, who is the sole employer of employees in his Division of Law Enforcement, has been asked to consider these facts and to respond to the freeholder board with a proposal on how to deal with this situation. There are about 130 employees budgeted for that division.