10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, May 24, 2011

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

Riverside County supervisors Tuesday declared their support for public safety and said imposing pay cuts and pension changes on the union representing sheriff’s deputies is unfortunate but will save money and jobs.

“The most important thing is to have deputies in the street, and I just don’t want to see that cut back,” Supervisor John Tavaglione said.

Sheriff Stan Sniff has said he might have to lay off as many as 500 employees starting July 13 to balance his budget. That figure is based on a worst-case scenario.

County officials have said every dollar saved through labor concessions can go toward avoiding layoffs. But the county and the Riverside Sheriff’s Association were unable to reach a negotiated agreement. The union made offers, but county officials said they didn’t achieve enough savings.

As a result, the county declared an impasse in the labor talks Friday. The sheriff’s union has objected, calling the impasse improper.

Starting June 2, the county plans to impose a 10 percent reduction in overall compensation for deputies and create a tier of lower pension benefits for newly hired workers.

The 10 percent reduction comes from a pay and health benefits cut and increased employee retirement contributions. The imposed terms are expected to save about $28 million over the next year.

Supervisor Jeff Stone said protecting residents is the county’s No. 1 responsibility. The labor savings and projected increases in sales tax revenues can help the Sheriff’s Department overcome its budget gap, he said.

But Stone suggested providing the department an extra year to permanently align expenses with ongoing revenues given the uncertainties with the state and the potential release of inmates due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday.

Supervisor Marion Ashley agreed. He said the county cannot afford to close 800 jail beds, a move Sniff has said might be necessary because of budget constraints.

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s association contends the impasse was not legitimate and accused county officials of mishandling the economic crisis.

“We endured nothing but bad faith tactics from the county both at the table and away from the table,” sheriff’s association President Pat McNamara said by email Tuesday.

At the time of the impasse, McNamara said the association requested formal fact finding and mediation, which are provided for in the county’s employee relations resolution.

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