Judge stops cut to deputies’ wages

SOUTH DAKOTA &#8211 Minnehaha County Sheriff’s deputies should not get a 5 percent wage cut next year, a judge has ruled.

In a decision received by the deputies’ attorney Friday, South Dakota Administrative Law Judge Donald Hageman said the county commission violated the collective bargaining agreement it had with the deputies’ association when it imposed the salary reduction.

Had the salary cut been allowed, deputies would have seen it in their paychecks, beginning today.

The commission in July voted to cut the base salaries of 520 county employees, including deputies and jailers, highway crews and office workers, to allow the county to save about $900,000 and help close an almost $3 million budget gap for 2012.

The 5 percent cut to members of the deputies association would have saved the county about $450,000.

However, in a hearing before Hageman in October, the deputies’ attorney Tom Wilka argued the collective bargaining agreement required the county to negotiate any salary rollback. The county could not merely impose one.

In his decision, Hageman wrote that according to the first sentence in the relevant section of the agreement “employees are to be paid in accordance with the salary and wage scales set forth in the ‘pay plan’ that is in effect at the time the CBA was executed. … If the county reduces the pay scale without authorization by the contract, it will breach the terms of the first sentence.”

Wilka called the ruling “very sound. It hit on all the points I tried to emphasize at the hearing and in my brief.”

Chief among those, he said, is the concept that for a contract to have meaning, all its terms must apply.

“You don’t apply an interpretation that renders certain terms meaningless,” Wilka said, and the county would have done that by cutting deputies’ salaries without negotiating for the reduction.

The county can appeal the decision to circuit court. If a judge there upholds Hageman’s ruling and converts it to a judgment, the state allows a special property tax assessment to cover the cost of the judgment.

That would amount to approximately $12.49 per $150,000 of assessed valuation for Minnehaha County property owners.

The county commission’s administrative officer Ken McFarland said commissioners probably will get a legal briefing on the ruling when they meet Tuesday.

“They will have to learn the impact of this and their options,” he said. Any decision whether to appeal the ruling will follow that.

In the meantime “we do need to do some things with the payroll to make sure we are consistent with the ruling,” said McFarland.

Commission Chairman John Pekas said barring an appeal, “which is where I lean,” the commission’s options are to impose layoffs or to allow Hageman’s decision to become a judgment, which automatically kicks in the property tax increase.

Pekas also said while the commission is considering its choices, the county’s day-to-day financial proceedings won’t be affected.

“There are no problems at this point. It’s in the pipeline,” Pekas said of the issue. “It will be managed.”

From ArgusLeader.com.

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