A state arbitrator has ruled in favor of Sauk County in a contract dispute between the county and its deputies union.

The county’s final offer was “more reasonable” than the one proposed by the employee group, and more in line with how sworn officers are compensated in comparable Wisconsin communities, arbitrator Milo Flaten wrote in his decision.

The ruling locks in a two-year deal in which sworn Sauk County Sheriff’s Department employees will receive a retroactive 2 percent raise for 2012, and another 2 percent bump this year.

Following months of negotiations, the county and deputies union were unable to reach a compromise. They entered interest arbitration, a process in which both parties submit final offers and a neutral third party selects one.

Flaten said his decision was based, in part, on the fact that the county’s three other employee unions have agreed to wage freezes and significant retirement fund contributions — things the deputies have refused.

The non-deputy unions cut deals that included large concessions just before their ability to collectively bargain was effectively eliminated by a 2011 bill proposed by Gov. Scott Walker and approved by Republican state lawmakers. Law enforcement officers were exempt from those changes.

Flaten wrote that the deputies live in the same region, share the same financial burdens and pay the same taxes as other county employees. The officers should not be awarded a more fruitful contract, he said, simply because they were not affected by the changes to collective bargaining law.

“Widely divergent wage rate increases in a single county stimulates begrudgement on the part of the rest of the employer’s workers unless extreme grounds can be justified for such divergence,” Flaten wrote. “This observer could find none.”

The county and union both provided the arbitrator with comparisons of sworn officer pay in other communities in order to make the case for their final offers. In his decision, the arbitrator wrote that the county’s comparisons were more accurate than the “cherry picked” ones provided by the union.

In addition to the 2 percent wage hikes at the beginning of 2012 and 2013, the union’s final offer included additional 1 percent raises in July of both years. The union proposal also included a third year, 2014, in which deputies would have received a 2 percent increase at the beginning of the year and another 2 percent increase in July.

The union argued that even though the county’s offer included wage increases, it amounted to a reduction in take-home pay because of retirement and health insurance contribution manipulations.

AFSCME Wisconsin Council 40 Staff Representative Neil Rainford was uncritical of the arbitrator’s decision Wednesday.

“We accept the result as part of a fair process of collective bargaining and interest arbitration where both parties understand there is give and take,” said Rainford, who represented the deputies in the arbitration process.

It’s unclear exactly how the decision will impact the county’s 2013 budget or year-end figures for 2012.

Sheriff Chip Meister said Wednesday the ruling was favorable for his department’s budget, but he did not have specific numbers.

“We had to budget for the more costly proposal and this decision lessens the impact on the budget,” Meister said.

Send email to tdamos@capitalnewspapers.com

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