MOUNT VERNON — After the public part of a meeting on Thursday, Knox County Sheriff David Barber, Lt. David Shaffer and the sheriff’s administrative assistant, Jan Wasiluk, went into executive session with the Knox County Commissioners to discuss personnel and the potential impact of budget decisions.
On Monday, Barber said the KCSO group left the meeting with the understanding that the examined budget figures would not be published at this preliminary stage of discussions. The commissioners had a different understanding, and discussed figures with the News later in the day Thursday. Those figures were published in Friday’s article, with the qualification that they were not final numbers and only posited a proposed path for reductions, which would require further input and agreement from the Fraternal Order of Police union.
Upset with the publication of these figures, which he said caused a “tremendous amount of turmoil,” Barber requested a meeting Monday for clarification.
Barber began by saying that he thought last Thursday’s meeting was very positive.
“I think everyone sensed a spirit of cooperation,” he said.
But he added that because the commissioners’ target is to cut 20 percent, or roughly $500,000, from the sheriff’s annual budget, the publication of the theorized reductions was inaccurate and misleading. The figures stated that if the proposed application of maximum furlough days, attrition, alternate funding, and extreme cutbacks to equipment and other expenses were applied — pending police union agreement — that only $150,000 more needed to be cut.
However, Barber said, additional costs had not yet been factored in, such as the timing of a retiring officer, the return of one who had been on active duty in the military, and end-of-the-year payouts for unused sick time and vacation time. Plus, he said, it was far too preliminary to release numbers reflecting the maximum number of 20 furlough days allowed by law, something Barber said is by no means certain to be accepted by the FOP.
The sheriff reiterated that publication of those figures was misleading, and that his department has estimated the cut to have only been brought down to, at best, $297,000. He said hearing the $150,000 figure upset his employees.
“Isn’t this meeting going to upset them more?” asked Commissioner Robert Wise, pointing out that this figure is twice the preliminary figure discussed Thursday.
“We’re trying to keep it in reality for these folks,” Barber said. “You’ve given false hope to these folks.”
“We’re caught in the position [that] we want our guys to have a true picture, not a pie-in-the-sky picture,” said Shaffer.
The commissioners said the $150,000 figure was not unrealistic, if furlough days were accepted.
“I think you guys are going worst-case scenario here,” Commissioner Allen Stockberger said. “I think the furlough days would be a lot more palatable, I’d think, to your staff and to the public [than layoffs].”
Commissioner Teresa Bemiller brought up the 3 percent raise the FOP members are scheduled to receive in 2010.
“I hate to say this, but if the union goes ahead with their raise, it will increase the number of furlough days [needed to balance the budget],” Bemiller said.
Stockberger calculated that the 3 percent raise was equal to 7.8 furlough days.
The meeting closed with participants agreeing to be more careful about what understanding everyone has at the end of budget meetings. Another meeting has been scheduled for Nov. 5.