As reported in the North Jersey News Publication, The Daily Record, Morris County Sheriff Edward V. Rochford has formally been advised by the freeholders and county administrator that a labor contract he privately negotiated with the Morris County Sheriff’s Officer’s union that provides a 20 percent (20%) increase in salaries over three years — is not acceptable and must be redrawn.

In rebuttal, Sheriff Rochford and his Chief of Staff Susan Hunter said the 20 percent (20%) figure cited by the freeholders and administrator does not take into account a major concession agreed to by the union — giving up the program of payment at retirement for unused sick leave with a $10,000 cap.  Hunter further said that the members of Policemen’s Benevolent Association 151 (PBA #151), who signed the pact with Rochford, are also dealing with a “four percent deficit (4%)” from the past because they agreed in 2010 and 2012 to a zero (0%) percent wage increases. Hunter said the contract covering the years 2015 through 2017 by necessity boosted the wages of new officers because in recent years they have been leaving in droves after a year or two, or less, on the job.  The contract as presented by Sheriff Rochford to the freeholders would start officers at $45,487 and their salaries would be $48,257 by 2017. Rank and file officers at top pay, reached after 10 years, would receive $91,982 in 2015 and rise to $97,584 by 2017.

In defense of the contract Chief of Staff Hunter stated that “Morris County has paid millions to train officers who wind up leaving in a year”.  The freeholders on March 11 authorized Administrator John Bonanni to write to Rochford to let him know the 2015-2017 contract he negotiated with PBA #151 greatly exceeds a state-mandated 2 percent (2%) salary cap on spending increases for governments. However, the law as it is presently written allows a public safety collective negotiations unit to bargain wages and salary increases with a governmental agency with out limit.  The two percent (2%) salary cap only comes into play and can be enforced if a impasse in negotiations is reached and the matter proceeds to interest arbitration.

For the first time in his tenure as Sheriff (since 1993) Rochford did not use county labor counsel or keep the freeholders apprised as he personally negotiated a new contract with PBA #151, according to county officials. Chief of Staff Hunter said the Sheriff has the authority to directly negotiate with the union, and the freeholders agree.  The freeholders last week said they saw the contract terms for the first time. The terms call for increasing the total amount reserved for officers’ salaries by 20 percent by 2017. According to the county administration, overall total spending would increase by 25 percent at the end of three years because of additional perks written into the pact. They include $700 performance incentive bonuses for officers, an increase in personal days from 3 to 5 per year, and a more generous clothing allowance.  Without seeing the agreement, it is difficult for us to comment on the value of the contract.  In a cursory view of the figures provided in The Daily Record Article, it appears as if the salary guide of ten (10) steps may have been maintained and a modest across the board wage increase was provided for the officers.  If this is the case, it appears that the County freeholders are using the mathematical formulas one must apply in an interest arbitration proceeding to claim that the contract exceeds the two percent (2%) salary cap.  However, such formulas need not be applied during negotiations and with that being the case, the contract is probably not nearly as “rich” as the county is making it out to be.

Again, not knowing all of the details associated with this negotiation process, it is difficult to intelligently comment on the true “monetary value” of the contract.  However, it is refreshing to see a law enforcement administrator “stepping up” and negotiating a contract with those under his charge in a way that he believes is fair to all parties involved.  The county freeholders need to grasp ahold of the idea that their Sheriff just doesn’t have the duty and responsibility to the taxpayers to negotiate a contract under the two percent (2%) salary cap.  His more important responsibility is to provide the law enforcement services necessary to carry out his organization’s tasks and responsibilities.  Clearly, Sheriff Rochford recognizes that hiring the best and the brightest available and retaining these officers through meaningful pay increases is important and allows his department to accomplish this mission.