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Prosecutor, County Okay, Key Issues Staff Pay Dispute Still Being Argued 5.10.2006

By Rick Racela

COURT HOUSE – County officials and Prosecutor Robert Taylor resolved most of their budget issues prior to the start of legal proceedings before Superior Court Acting Assignment Judge William Todd Monday.
Still at dispute is the Prosecutor’s argument that his staff is underpaid and current salary contracts should be reopened.  Those points were argued all day Monday and were slated to continue yesterday, too late for this newspaper’s deadline. Nothing is scheduled today; testimony is expected to resume tomorrow.
Among key parts of what has already been agreed, according to County Administrator Steve O’Connor – Taylor could not be reached – the county will amend its 2006 budget to provide funds for:
Â¥ Hiring three new investigators, one assistant prosecutor and two part-time secretaries, plus increase operating costs to provide necessary equipment for those people.
On an annual basis, that would amount to some $300,000 in wages, $80,000 in benefits and $72,000 for equipment.  Those are rough estimates, according to O’Connor. For the remainder of this year, it would be less than half that.
The question of additional personnel – Taylor requested a total of 18 – has been resolved by an agreement that the county will have an independent study to review manpower. Both sides have to agree within 14 days on who would do it. If they can’t, Judge Todd will.
 Â¥ Four new vehicles would be added to the capital budget. Those are SUVs that run from $22,000 to $25,000, O’Connor said.
Â¥ On the issue of Taylor’s request for an additional 19,000 square feet of office space, the county will have a “facilities assessment” of the current Prosecutor’s building and the county courthouse.  Judge Todd would review the results with an eye to any changes being in the 2007 budget.
The Prosecutor has suggested the third floor of the county courthouse and the county has countered that that would cost a minimum of $3.5 million.
The county is hanging tough on reopening the wage contracts with numbers flying around like seagulls over a loaf of bread.
The Prosecutor, backed by the Division of Criminal Justice of the state Attorney General’s Office, says the staff here works harder and makes less than throughout the state.
The county – represented by attorney Russell Lichtenstein – disagrees, and claims there are no problems retaining or hiring people. There also may be a philosophical issue here: whether Taylor or O’Connor should negotiate those contracts.
This dispute got serious after Taylor was dissatisfied with the freeholders’ response to his requests last fall for more funds in the 2006 budget
They gave him three more people, but only by a 3-2 vote with Freeholder-Director Dan Beyel and Freeholder Leonard Desiderio opposed.
As soon as the county approved its $126-million budget on March 14, Taylor filed a “Bigley action” with the courts. That 1969 case set the precedent under which the courts can order the county to come through.
O’Connor described four hours of negotiations May 5 that led to the compromise on most issues as  “nonconfrontational.” One would hardly know that Taylor is a Democrat and the freeholder board is all-Republican.
Contact Zelnik at (609) 886-8600 Ext. 27 or: jzelnik@cmcherald.com

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