Specific savings of sheriff’s office contract unknown

Last week’s County Legislature approval of a new sheriff’s contract has left questions unanswered.

The terms and conditions cover 2012-16 and include modifications to health insurance benefits, at a net increase of $175,000 per year.

“We’re trying to do everything we can and keep the expense to the taxpayer at the absolute lowest point possible, while at the same time being fair to our employees out there serving the community in law enforcement,” said Vince Horrigan, county executive. “It was fairly negotiated, and it’s in the best interest of the county to have a (new) contract.”

Terms and conditions were approved to include 2 percent wage increases for each year from 2013-16.

Retroactive pay for the course of 2013 was debated at February’s Public Safety Committee meeting, although the contract expired in 2011 and retroactive pay would not be included for 2012.

Horrigan also said the negotiation involved savings in terms of incorporating a high-deductible health plan, which involves lower premiums and higher deductibles than typical health plans, but did not provide an exact amount.

“There were a number of items going into the calculation of what net increases were related to wages and health insurance,” said Kitty Crow, budget director. “A new deputy would start lower, so, in terms of $175,000, there are factors that could make that a smaller amount if people retire.”

Crow said of the 56 workers involved in the bargaining unit, half are enrolled in the high- deductible health plan.

“It seems like most new people – especially young healthy people – pick that plan because it really does save money, and it saves us money too,” she added. “We’ve maintained about the same number every year of people enrolled.”

Crow did not provide a monetary amount of savings.

“It’s difficult to put in black and white terms,” said Joe Porpiglia, director of human resources. “There are a lot of variables that come into play.”

Another feature of the contract involves a stipend for deputies who complete emergency medical training certification, which Horrigan said is an added bonus in protecting the community.

Sheriff Joe Gerace said the plan to include EMT training for deputies was modeled after other counties such as Rensselaer County, where each deputy is certified, including the sheriff.

He also declined to comment on the cost of training for each deputy, and said the process has yet to begin.

“We’ll be working on getting a small class of deputies certified this year,” he said. “We’re communicating closely with other counties to answer questions before we even begin the process.”

Lastly, a program included in the contract involves employees opting to participate in a health screening to determine general factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.

If certain marks are not met, a wellness program must be attended in order to put employees on a healthier track.

The goal is to save money with healthier employees, but exact savings were not available.