MORRISTOWN, NJ – Morris County Sheriff Edward Rochford will have to lay off more than 24 officers and civilian employees if he goes forward with contracts he’s negotiated with labor unions, warned the county freeholders on Friday.

The sheriff responded by saying the contracts are “reasonable” and by criticizing the county for its public statement about behind-the-scenes contract negotiations.

The freeholders said they sent a letter to the sheriff “advising him that contracts he has negotiated with four labor unions representing his employees would far exceed his budge. The board said the letter, signed by Morris County Administrator John Bonanni, was sent to Rochford on Thursday.

Sign Up for E-News

The letter, “explained that pay increases of 25 percent to 31 percent over three to four years negotiated by the sheriff for 2015, 2016 and 2017 with employees in his Division of Law Enforcement would far exceed his budget,” said the freeholders. They said they urged Rochford to go back to the bargaining table.

“The freeholders, in the letter, strongly suggest that the sheriff re-negotiate those contracts to bring the proposed salary increases in line with realistic budget numbers and projections,” said the board’s statement. “Otherwise, the sheriff was advised that he should begin the process of developing a lay-off plan that would achieve needed savings to allow for pay increases he would like to implement.”

According to the freeholders, Rochford was warned in July that his budget could not sustain the salaries proposed in the new labor deals. “If the sheriff were to implement those negotiated new contracts, the budget shortfall would require the sheriff to reduce his workforce by 16 full-time staff members of various ranks and levels in 2016, an additional 11 full-time employees in 2017, and at least one more layoff in 2018, to be able to fit the new salaries into his budget,” said the board.

Responding Friday to the freeholders’ letter, Rochford said, “I have fulfilled my Constitutional requirement in signing reasonable contracts that are within the already established salary parameters set forth by the Freeholders for county law enforcement. It is up to the unions to decide a course of action, if any, they wish to take.”

Rochford, who is an elected official, expressed irritation about the freeholders’ decision to publicize their position. “It is disappointing … that the collective bargaining process is aired in the press,” he said Friday. “Hopefully the county will exercise their authority and ability to honor the contracts so that the public safety is not jeopardized.”

In a letter he sent to the county last month, Rochford said the freeholders are inaccurately portraying the situation. He said negotiated raises “only partially” compensate the employees for salary freezes they endured in recent years.

“The Sheriff’s Office is a Constitutional Office and my role of the Sheriff (the person who was elected by the people of this county to run this agency) is to inform you what funds I need to run this agency,” Rochford wrote. “The idea is that we work together on this as we have done the last 20 years of my tenure as Sheriff. I have cut and cut and cut to accommodate the governing body over the years.”

The contract in question are for the Morris County Policemen’s Benevolent Association, Local 151; the Morris County Policemen’s Benevolent Association, PBA 151 Superior Officers Associations; sheriff’s department investigators and sheriff’s department civilians, said the freeholders. They said the deals proposed by Rochford would exceed the money allocated to his office in the 2015 county budget by $528,506.

“They would result in a projected $905,767 shortfall in 2016 and exceed the anticipated 2017 county budget by $1.3 million,” said the board, noting the county took into account an expected 2 percent budget increase for 2016 and 2017.

“Any layoff plan would require at least 90 days to implement, so it would be too late for the sheriff to reduce his workforce in 2015 to offset pay hikes that would exceed his current budget,” asserted the freeholders. “The PBA 151 contract negotiated by the sheriff would provide a 25 percent pay increase over three years. The contract negotiated with Sheriff’s Superior Officers would result in a 31 percent pay hike over three years. The contract with Sheriff’s Civilian Employees would result in a 29.4 percent pay hike over four years.”

The board disputed Rochford’s assertion, made last month, that a $60 million county surplus fund could be used to cover the pay increases. “There is no $60 million fund,” said the board, contending it “explained and suggested the sheriff meet with the County Auditor to learn the purpose, amount, source and allowed uses of surplus, of fund balances.”

Rochford, in his letter, said it is county officials, not himself or his staff, who have been uncooperative.

“Throughout my 23 years as Sheriff, it has been a substantial past practice that each year the county representatives and the Budget Committee members of the governing body would sit down multiple times with me and/or my representatives of this agency to discuss the areas of concern, etc. to collectively come up with the necessary parameters,” he wrote. “This was never done last year and I don’t know why.”