Commissioners hear concern about probation services due to pay issues

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Warren County Chief Adult Probation Officer Mike Walters addresses the Warren County Commissioners about pay issues in the department during Wednesday’s meeting.

Pay issues are resulting in decades of experience leaving the Warren County Adult Probation Department.

The Warren County Commissioners want to address the problem, but a collective bargaining agreement that went to arbitration complicates the situation. Chief Adult Probation Officer Mike Walters told the Warren County Commissioners that his frustrations with the wage issue are “reaching a new level.”

He said that the department has lost 43 years of experience in the last year and a half and is set to lose another 19 soon “all due to pay.”

“We’re not going to be able to keep up the current level of supervision with a revolving door of new hires,” he said.

As a result, a proposed memorandum of understanding was tabled Wednesday.

According to a current job posting on the county’s website, starting salary for an adult probation officer is $15.75 per hour. That jumps to $17.50 per hour after one year, $19 per hour after three years and $20 per hour after five years.

Walters outlined a series of steps that the Adult Probation Department has taken to save the county money. He said a pre-trial program has saved nearly $500,000 by keeping some defendants out of jail while they await trial. That total comes from 21,065 “bed days that individuals otherwise would have been incarcerated.”

The Department is also supervising people that would otherwise do short jail stays for some traffic offenses through magisterial district judges. There is also discussion about expanding the pre-trial program to repeat, non-violent DUI offenders, getting them into treatment sooner and keeping them out of jail. Walters said he sees positions posted for a hire starting rate in other county departments.

“I would argue those positions don’t have as much responsibility as you’re asking of my officers,” he said. “My officers carry firearms and make arrests. You can’t just throw a new hire into that position.”

Currently, he said he relies on veteran officers to train new ones.

“Experience, I can’t replace that,” he said. “The liability to the county… is going to increase.”

Walters presented a memorandum of understanding to the county commissioners that he called “very fair” and said will provide an “affordable living” to his officers.

Case loads are going to increase from 70 to 100 to 90 to 130 per officer.

“We’re willing to take that on,” he said. “They need – I’m not asking for money for me – they need to be compensated as such.”

The MOU was before the commissioners for consideration during Wednesday’s meeting. And, at the advice of outside labor counsel, they argue they can’t act on it.

“I thought that the proposal was frankly a good one, one that I could get behind,” Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said, “particularly if it wouldn’t cause other departments to also have wishes to change their wages as well.”

However, he outlined that probation officers are under a collective bargaining agreement that went to arbitration last year.

“One of the areas that was not addressed… was any mention of the starting wages,” Kafferlin said.

He said board members are sympathetic to the “revolving door” in the probation department “and frankly a lot of departments” are experiencing the same situation.

“We’re seeing a much younger demographic in employment,” Kafferlin said. “(We) see years of experience walking out the door. The younger generation doesn’t seem to be sticking with the jobs as long. There is something that needs to change.”

But, he said, the commissioners are bound by the terms of the CBA.

“Personally, (this is an) example why CBAs don’t work,” he said. The county is “hamstrung by the CBA.”

“We consulted with our legal counsel about the MOU that was proposed,” he added, and were “specifically told we cannot” approve it.

He said that labor counsel would have to negotiate with the union’s labor counsel on this issue.

“It is not possible to pass an MOU between the union and county at this time,” he said.

“I want to reiterate, I hear you Chief Walters,” Kafferlin continued. “I see staff burnout… disgruntled employees…. I do want to fix it. We are bound by a certain legal tract.”

He said that the aim is to “come up with an agreement we can pass post haste. I do want to see change.”

Commissioner Jeff Eggleston said that he “never agreed” with the board of commissioners to have attorneys negotiate the contract.

“I don’t think the contract should have ever went to arbitration,” calling it a “failure of the strategy of the commissioner’s office.”

He also agreed, though, that the contract can’t be changed mid-stream without “extraordinary circumstances.”

“We certainly agree probation is an important piece of the county government,” Eggleston said.


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