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Bedford sheriff asks for higher staff wages

BEDFORD — The Bedford County sheriff asked the county commissioners for staff wage increases — a revision to a formerly established agreement — expressing concern about his staff retention rates and the department’s ability to function.

At a meeting on Tuesday, Sheriff Charwin Reichelderfer requested a $2 per hour salary increase for his entire office staff, citing the number of staff members he has lost within the last few months.

With the commissioners’ approval Tuesday to move Deputy Brian Kaszubski to part-time status starting Friday, the sheriff’s office will have lost its third full-time deputy within the last three months, Reichelderfer said.

He added the office has lost a total of four full-time staff within the last seven months and five within the last nine months to higher-paying jobs. The office also lost a full-time secretary within the seven-month time frame.

Reichelderfer said he’s sent nine employees through the academy, of which eight have left for better-paying jobs.

“The point has come that I am at a critical state that my office will not be able to perform needed services,” states a letter by Reichelderfer addressed to the Bedford County salary board. “I do not want to pass the problem to a new sheriff that takes office in 2020.

“Whoever gets elected into this position, they may be coming into this office with nobody there,” Reichelderfer said Tuesday.

The sheriff said he is authorized to have nine full-timestaff on board, but that the office will have six come Friday. Staff are needed to transport inmates and to watch courtrooms and the sheriff’s booth across from a courthouse building entrance.

Although Reichelderfer requested a salary change, no extra compensation can be given to any public employee after a contract has been made, according to the Pennsylvania Constitution. Staff wage negotiations are normally done at budget time.

Commissioner Barry Dallara noted a 2017 agreement with the collective bargaining unit to increase starting salaries from $10.70 to $11.20.

After deputies go through the academy, their pay increases by 50 cents per hour, the sheriff said.

“We don’t have the resources to go across the board of the county to make the adjustments for just one group without having to deal with all the groups that should be adjusted,” Dallara said. “Once we settle on an agreement, which was September of 2017, we can’t go back and adjust that document.”

“What else to do, I’m not sure,” he added, commenting on how he doesn’t want to get accused of an unfair labor practice.

Commissioner Paul Crooks added the county offers health insurance and retirement and said people should acknowledge the importance and cost of these benefits.

The state Constitution provision means counties cannot increase pay rates due to reconsideration of a deal previously made in collective bargaining. Therefore, revising a deal later and voting to give extra pay is prohibited, states a letter to the commissioners by public sector labor attorney Christopher Gabriel.

The agreement with the collective bargaining unit will expire this December, opening the door for new negotiations, said Commis­sioner Josh Lang.

“The pressure is to push wages higher, and we understand that,” Dallara said. “But unfortunately a lot of that pressure really started to evolve in the last 15 months.”

“We have another negotiations process we’re going to go through,” he added. “And we’re hopefully going to find savings other places that will help us in other ways.”

Dallara added the commissioners will work with the county sheriff on a contingency plan.

Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7457.

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