In the 21 years Tom Morgan has served with the Union County Sheriff's Office, he has never seen anything like what occurred Feb. 20, when eight employees lost their jobs.

In the 21 years Tom Morgan has served with the Union County Sheriff's Office, he has never seen anything like what occurred Feb. 20, when eight employees lost their jobs.

"It was very difficult, emotional," said Morgan, the chief deputy sheriff. "One gal had been here over 22 years. It was not something the sheriff took lightly. He did everything he could not to get to this point, but there is only so much you can cut."

Sheriff Rocky Nelson initially submitted a $5,796,618 budget request to Union County commissioners.

In late December, Commissioner Gary Lee said he and his fellow commissioners told Nelson to make more cuts.

Nelson was able to reduce the budget by $206,050

In early January, commissioners examined sales tax revenue and realized the overall budget would have to be reduced by 1.5 percent, so they told Nelson to crunch the numbers again.

An additional $481,184 had to be cut.

Nelson said he had already cut his operating budget to the "bare bone."

He canceled cruisers needed for the 2009 fleet rotation. He did not fill open deputy and corporal positions and reduced estimates of fuel usage and costs.

But it still came down to his staff.

"The entire process has been a very difficult thing to go through for everybody involved," Morgan said. "Obviously we don't want to see anyone lose their job, but the economy is going downhill. The general fund isn't what it was a year or two years ago."

The majority of Nelson's budget, he said, is tied up in personnel: 28 patrol deputies and 33 deputies in total, 13 dispatchers, eight sergeants and corporals, seven administrators and 11 civilians.

"In making decisions for laying off people, it was extremely difficult to face," said Morgan. "The sheriff had to ask, 'What is our priority?'"

Sworn deputies are needed for responding to public calls.

"There are positions we can do without and some we can't do without," he said.

After wrestling with the issue, Nelson made the decision to talk with his staff on Feb. 20.

He first met with the three bargaining units of the Fraternal Order of Police/Ohio Labor Council -- the units represent dispatchers, deputies and sergeants and corporals -- to tell them that the layoffs were coming.

Nelson said he was laying off an investigative clerk, an administrative clerk, the office manager, the accounts payable clerk, a records clerk, two court security deputies and a part-time patrol deputy.

As a result, he is pulling two school resource officers out of the county schools and reassigning them to maintain security at the courthouse.

He still faced the prospect of laying off five additional patrol deputies.

The most difficult aspect of the process was meeting with the employees, Morgan said.

"You are dealing with people's lives and livelihood," he said, "and folks we worked with for many, many years."

Saying they did not have enough money to keep the staff employed for the rest of the year was extremely difficult, according to Morgan.

The union representatives called a meeting for Feb. 22 and the budget information was placed on a big screen for everyone to see before questions were answered.

"The sheriff really tried to be transparent through the process," Morgan said. "He shared exact numbers of line items."

Then on Feb. 24, the three unions ratified a letter of understanding saying they would either reduce or cut wage increases they were expected to receive in the second year of a three-year contract in the hopes of saving fellow employees' jobs.

The entire administration also gave up their raises.

"It means we don't have to lay off five deputies and we may be able to recall one or two of the civilian positions," said Morgan.

The sheriff, he said, is going to try to call people back based on seniority, but is waiting on answers regarding job classifications from legal counsel.

"We are still crunching the numbers to see what we can do," Morgan said Feb. 25.

Contracts would not normally be discussed until the third year when they were about to expire, but Morgan said they will be meeting with the unions in the fourth quarter of this year for an update on the budget based on the sacrifices the union workers have made.

"It was fellow employees helping fellow employees," he said, "and it was greatly appreciated by the sheriff and the command staff. They are giving up raises to save staff. They are considering others in a time like this. The economy is so uncertain. We look at this with guarded hope, because we don't know what the future holds."