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updated: 12/1/2011 12:27 PM

Taxpayers could pay for Kane County fight with itself

County board refuses to fund sheriff raises

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Taxpayers will apparently fund another potentially costly legal battle between Kane County officials as board members and Sheriff Pat Perez could not reach agreement Wednesday on who must pay for a 2 percent raise recently awarded to sheriff's department employees and correctional officers.

Perez and the county board are co-employers of his staff. As such, they've worked since last December on a new labor contract with union employees in the sheriff's department. Union employees sought a 4 percent raise. County officials wanted to give no raises. The negotiation eventually went to binding arbitration where the union employees were awarded a 2 percent raise retroactive for 2011 and moving forward into 2012.

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Kane County's fiscal year ends Thursday. With no ability to make up the difference elsewhere in the budget for 2011, the county board's Finance Committee agreed to eat the $326,000 added cost for 2011. The county has enough surplus funds from the 2011 budget to absorb that cost and still finish in the black.

In planning the budget for 2012, committee members agreed the leaders of every department must fund any raises out of whatever budget the county board approved for them heading into the new fiscal year.

When Perez submitted his budget plan for 2012, the arbitration ruling was not decided, so he didn't build the raise into his proposal. The cost of the raises will equal about $183,000 for 2012. On Wednesday, committee members told Perez to find that money in the budget they already gave him.

Perez refused and said that would mean making cuts to a budget that's already been cut to the bone.

"I will not issue a pay increase unless my budget is funded," Perez said. "As of Dec. 1, the 2 percent across-the-board increase is supposed to be in affect. I guarantee this will result in an unfair labor practice claim."

Union attorney Tim O'Neil said he'll file an unfair labor practice claim as soon as union employees receive their first paycheck in the new fiscal year and the raise isn't included.

"This is political tomfoolery," O'Neil said.

The county board was involved with all the union negotiations and agreed to an arbitration process, O'Neil said.

"If they didn't like the ruling, they had X number of days to go to court; they didn't do it," O'Neil said. "Now they'll be paying for their attorney's fees and our fees to fight this."

Finance Committee Chairman Jim Mitchell said the state's attorney's office will investigate the legality of forcing Perez to fund the raise out of his current budget. In the meantime, Mitchell said Perez' decision to not enact the 2 percent raise is what will trigger the unfair labor practice claim.

"In my opinion, he should pay the raises because he's obligated and come up with a contingency plan in case we don't give him (more money)," Mitchell said.

The dispute between the Finance Committee and Perez may be the first volley in a larger fight for 2012 and beyond. Mitchell said part of the issue is the sheriff's union, or any union in the county, getting a raise, while most of the nonunion employees in the county have gone several years without a pay increase.

"I feel what you do for one, you should do for all," Mitchell said.

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