James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/31/2011 06:38:59 PM PDT

Two key San Bernardino County employee unions won’t accept a package of concessions that county leaders have asked all employees to take, union leaders said Tuesday.

That could spell doom for county chief executive Greg Devereaux’s plan to cut the county budget in large part with employee concessions, forcing the county to cut programs and services, said county spokesman David Wert.

“The budget is going to be balanced either way,” Wert said. “We know what we’re going to do. It’s just going to hurt.”

The biggest part of the concession package would end the county’s practice of paying part of employees’ pension obligations – a practice known as a pension pick-up or retirement pick-up. The county also pays the employer’s share of pension obligations.

The president of the union representing sheriff’s deputies said Tuesday the union – the Safety Employees’ Benefit Association – will not accept the concessions. The general manager of the union representing most county workers – the San Bernardino Public Employees Association – said that union won’t won’t agree to the concessions either.

“Until others have given, we have given all we can,” said SBPEA General Manager Bob Blough.

Looking to close a budget gap of $82 million, Wert said Devereaux was planning on making $32 million in cuts and getting $50 million from employee concessions. Without the concessions, Wert said all $82 million will have to be cut.

“What the county can’t get from employees will be cut from the budget,” he said. “Of the $50 million in (additional) cuts, $31 million would come from public safety.”

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller said the Sheriff’s Department would take a hit of about $26.5 million if the concessions don’t go through. She said Sheriff Rod Hoops wants to avoid layoffs at all costs and believes he can.

To get through the next few years, the department would postpone building a new crime lab, reduce overtime, cut back on purchasing and leave empty positions unfilled.

Deputies offered to postpone a raise they’re set to get in July but the county rejected that offer, said Laren Leichliter, president of the Safety Employees’ Benefit Association, the union representing sheriff’s deputies.

“We offered to suspend those raises for three years,” Leichliter said. “And instead, they said they had to have that retirement pickup…. The county wanted way more than the membership wanted to give up.”

Leichliter said postponing the raise would save the county $14 million in each of the next three years.

Wert said the county is “mystified” about how SEBA reached that figure. He said postponing the raise would save about $5.1 million per year. The concessions, meanwhile, would save $11 million – $8.4 million in county funds and $2.6 million in federal and stand funds.

This spring, Devereaux and the county Board of Supervisors asked all county employees for the same set of concessions. The board imposed those concessions on so-called exempt employees – higher-ranking workers who are not represented by a union – and asked unions to consider them.

So far, only the union representing county firefighters has signed on.

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