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Cutting to the chase

The fate of 66 Jackson County Sheriff's Department employees who have received layoff notices hinges in large part on the outcome of labor negotiations between the county and the department's union.

"It could get better," County Administrator Danny Jordan said of the department's layoff number.

But, Jordan said, there will be layoffs in the Sheriff's Department regardless, and that other county departments are facing layoffs as well.

The extent of the law enforcement layoffs, which were announced Tuesday, will depend in part on who prevails in an ongoing labor dispute.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Employees' Association has proposed a contract with about $3.2 million in new compensation, including retroactive pay raises and insurance benefits. The county has proposed to give union members $500,000 in new compensation, with no retroactive pay increase.

If the county is ordered by an arbitrator to pay the larger amount, the larger level of layoffs will be necessary to offset the cost, Jordan said.

Jordan said the layoff notices also are a result of declining property taxes, reduced state and federal revenues, and $4 million in mandated increases in county payments into the Public Employees Retirement System.

An arbitration official is looking at both proposals and will rule by the end of the month, Jordan said. Deputy Ben Fazio, president of the employees' union, could not be reached for comment.

Sheriff's Department employees received notices Tuesday that they could be laid off in 28 days. The notices were based on seniority and apply to those hired starting in 2003. It's the first time layoffs have been announced during Sheriff Mike Winters' tenure.

The cuts could affect search-and-rescue, air rescue and SWAT operations, along with court security workers and jail staff. It also could eliminate 24-hour patrols.

"These are wide-ranging cuts," Winters said in a Wednesday news conference. "It's not a good day when you affect (employees') lives and turn them upside down."

The Sheriff's Department has about 174 full-time positions. Previous cuts already have included leaving the undersheriff's position vacant and cutting lieutenant and captain positions.

"It's tenuous times here. We have a lot of good people," Winters said.

He added that he will be meeting with the heads of various law enforcement agencies over the next several weeks to discuss how to maintain service levels if the cuts are made.

"We've got to start pulling rabbits out of the hat to make it work," he said.

Jordan said the sheriff's department's new headquarters on Crater Lake Highway, which opened in May, didn't contribute to the department's financial woes, as it was paid for with capital fund dollars that cannot be used for operations. Patrol and jail operations are primarily funded by county general fund dollars, which are separate.

The county has lost $27 million in revenues over the past five years, primarily through the loss of timber-related funding, but also from declines in property taxes and interest income.

"It's just a tough situation for the county, budgetwise," Jordan said, adding that the ongoing PERS increases need to be addressed at the state level.

"We can't sustain $4 million in increases with no new revenues," he said.

Jordan also said the 2013-14 fiscal year budget likely will have a shortfall of about $10 million if the county chooses to maintain current services.

Jordan said to offset that shortfall, if no new revenue is found, more layoffs could occur in the Sheriff's Department, along with position cuts in the District Attorney's Office, Community Justice, as well as the assessment, development services and roads and parks staffs. He said specifics on the number of employees per department facing layoffs are not yet available, since the budget is still being developed.

"Every department is essentially taking cuts, and where they're not taking cuts, they're not going to fill vacant positions," Jordan said.

Jordan has previously said that the county has avoided filling many vacancies in recent months in anticipation of a tight budget.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters holds a news conference Wednesday to discuss layoff notices that were given to 66 members of his department. The county says the depth of the layoffs will depend largely on who prevails in a labor dispute with the sheriff's employees' union. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch