As reported by, the Somerset County freeholders do not plan to increase taxes next year, but may downsize the sheriff’s office if union concessions are not made. The freeholders presented a proposed budget last week, a spending plan that is less than one percent smaller than last year’s $211 million budget. “It’s not a huge cut, but it’s a cut,” said Freeholder Director Robert Zaborowski.

A key issue that could affect the budget is the contract situation with the two unions representing employees in the sheriff’s office, which are now in arbitration.  Zaborowski said layoffs do not appear to be on the horizon, but he warned they could be possible. “Hopefully, we can avoid that,” he said.

Last year, the county budget called for the layoff of 10 sheriff’s officers after the unions rejected a pay freeze. The 45 sheriff’s officers are represented by the Fraternal Order of Police and the 107 corrections officers are represented by the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, Local 177. The county and unions have been negotiating since the contracts expired, in 2007 for the sheriff’s officers and last year for corrections.

So far, 16 of the 19 unions representing county employees have agreed to waive salary increases in 2010 or 2011, according to county officials. Zaborowski said staff attrition over the past few years, the county has tried to avoid hiring new employees since 2008, has been a major contributor to next year’s slightly leaner budget. In the proposed budget, the county eliminated another 27 positions, meaning 149 positions have been dropped since 2008. Budgeting for the department is almost flat: In the current year, $6,011,500 was appropriated for the sheriff’s department, and $6,017,400 is budgeted for next year.