The arbitrator whose binding contract ruling will decide the fate of 66 Jackson County Sheriff's Department employees has asked for eight more days to make a decision.

The arbitrator whose binding contract ruling will decide the fate of 66 Jackson County Sheriff's Department employees has asked for eight more days to make a decision.

There will be no middle ground on the decision made, which should be by March 8.

"It has to be one or the other," Deputy County Administrator Harvey Bragg said Thursday.

The 66 Sheriff's Department employees affected by the decision were given layoff notices last week. County officials have said reduced revenues, reductions in state and federal revenue and $4 million in additional state-mandated PERS payments necessitated the layoff notices. The layoffs could mean cuts to search and rescue, patrol, air rescue, SWAT, jail operations and court security.

"It's a person, it's a family. It's somebody with a spouse, with kids," said Ben Fazio, a deputy and president of the Jackson County Sheriff's Employees' Association, the department's union. "It's very personal to me."

The two contract proposals subject to the binding arbitration come from Jackson County and the JCSEA.

Under the JCSEA's last best offer, union members have proposed retroactive pay increases for 2011 through 2013 based on the Consumer Prince Index for each year, 2.1 percent and 3.6 percent for 2011 and 2012, respectively. The 2013 CPI has not been determined, but the union has asked for between 0 percent and 4 percent, depending on where it is set.

"We don't know, because it won't be calculated until July 1," Fazio said, adding the union's proposal would only keep up with the cost of living.

"We're trying to protect our members," Fazio said.

The county has offered no salary increases for 2011 and 2012, with a 2013 salary increase of up to 2 percent based on the CPI.

Jackson County officials have said their offer would total about $500,000 in new compensation, while the union's would amount to about $3.2 million and would greatly increase the number of layoffs necessary.

Fazio said exact numbers can't be known, as the 2013 CPI hasn't yet been calculated.

Based on information provided by Jackson County, in 2012 patrol deputies were paid from a low of $57,267 to a high of $97,628, including extra duty pay and other incentives. Corrections deputies made between $63,668 and $108,500, and records clerks made between $38,479 and $61,708.

Compared with Deschutes, Douglas and Linn counties, Jackson County Sheriff's Department employees receive higher compensation than the average wages of all four counties, data provided by Jackson County show.

A deputy's starting pay is $23.17 an hour, county officials said. By comparison, Deschutes, Douglas and Linn counties' wages are set at $25.10, $20.26 and $21.84.

Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said in an email that a Portland State University study that included Jackson County showed that the total nonsalary cost for employees — including benefits and such things as workers' compensation insurance — was nearly as much as the salaries themselves.

Fazio said having good wages and benefits is a plus in attracting new employees.

"When you start lowering your standards or lowering your compensation rates, people look for other places to work," Fazio said. "We want the best-qualified. I want the guys and gals working around me to be the best that they can be. I think that's what the community deserves."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or email