Counties Soon To Be In Bind

July 10, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — A bill passed by the state House would give county corrections officers the right to settle a dispute through binding arbitration, a right public safety officers throughout the state already have.

But the Michigan Association of Counties strongly opposes the legislation and calls it an unfunded mandate that will cost its members from $3 million to $5 million “just for the process of hiring attorneys, expert witness, etc.”

“Decisions appropriately made by county commissioners are now being trumped by House members. Many counties have already been laying off deputies on the road because that service is not mandated. This legislation could actually exacerbate that by decreasing funding and increasing unfunded mandates,” said Tim McGuire, MAC executive director, in a release.

State law mandates that each county maintain and staff a jail. But counties are not required to offer a road-patrol service to townships and outlying rural areas.

Kent County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said the county is very aware of the legislation but hasn’t taken an official position on HB 6112, whose primary sponsor is Mount Clemens Democrat Fred Miller.

“From an employer’s perspective, we have to look closely at this because, historically, employers in the public sector — cities, villages, townships and counties — have not reacted favorably to binding arbitration,” said Delabbio.

About 240 county corrections officers make up the Kent County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, one of 13 employee bargaining units at the county. The Kent County Law Enforcement Association, which is affiliated with the Police Officers Association of Michigan, represents the deputies who patrol the county’s townships.

“The road patrol is covered by Act 312. The deputy sheriff’s association, the correctional officers are not covered by Act 312,” said Delabbio. “That is what the bill would do: extend (312) to the correctional officers.”

Public Act 312 calls for compulsory arbitration when talks between a municipality and its public safety officers are stalled. The law allows an independent arbitrator to make a binding decision to end a dispute, but the process removes all the control of the situation from an employer and an employee union. City police and fire personnel are covered under PA 312.

The Michigan Municipal League, like MAC, opposes the bill and testified against it at a recent hearing held by the House Labor Committee. The Police Officers Association of Michigan and the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Michigan testified for it.

The bill was passed by the House and was sent to the Senate Committee on Government Operations and Reform.

Grand Rapids Republican State Rep. Glenn Steil Jr. voted against the measure, as did Grandville Republican Dave Agema. Area Democrats, such as Michael Sak and Robert Dean, voted for the bill.

The Michigan Sheriff’s Association has indicated it will remain neutral on the bill.

MAC said passage of the bill would add a “further burden on counties that will almost certainly increase the cost of providing retirement and salaries for these employees.” The association noted that retirement costs for some counties top 20 percent of each dollar paid for salaries.

“We hope the House members get the message that this legislation is fiscally detrimental to all 83 counties,” said McGuire before the vote.

MAC also criticized the bill as being “hypocritical” because it doesn’t offer corrections officers at the state level the same binding arbitration it wants county corrections officers to have.

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