For 90 minutes on a Sunday, Union County commissioners, the sheriff, the chief deputy sheriff and the commander of the administrative division talked with members of three separate unions representing sheriff's office employees.

For 90 minutes on a Sunday, Union County commissioners, the sheriff, the chief deputy sheriff and the commander of the administrative division talked with members of three separate unions representing sheriff's office employees.

The officeholders did not know what to expect from the meeting, which dealt with finances and budget cuts, but the talks of Feb. 22 ended up having a positive outcome. On Feb. 24, the three bargaining units of the Fraternal Order of Police/Ohio Labor Council ratified a letter of understanding to take pay cuts in an attempt to save the jobs of co-workers.

All bargaining units are in the second year of a three-year contract.

The dispatchers were expected to get an 8-percent pay increase, while the sergeants and corporals' union along with the deputies' union were to get a 7-percent pay hike.

When they learned that Sheriff Rocky Nelson was notifying eight employees that they would be laid off at the end of March, and still facing the prospect of five patrol deputies being cut after shuffling duties, the bargaining units wanted to know why.

Commissioner Gary Lee said he and his fellow commissioners, Tom McCarthy and Charles Hall, were willing to take the time to answer questions about the financial constraints that hit the sheriff's office on Feb. 20.

On Feb. 23, Lee explained to ThisWeek what led to the cuts.

He did not know it then, but the bargaining units and the administration at the sheriff's office were about to step in and do what they could to help.

The 13 dispatchers, said they would reduce their pay increase to 2.5 percent. The eight sergeants and corporals said they, too, would only take a 2.5-percent pay hike. The 33 deputies agreed to no increase.

"We are very thankful," chief deputy sheriff Tom Morgan said Feb. 25. "They were very gracious to reduce the wages. 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. We are still crunching the numbers to see what we can do."

The administrators also have agreed to no increase in wages.

McCarthy said Feb. 20 that working on the latest budget has been one of the hardest things the commissioners have had to do in many years.

"This is not an easy thing," he said.

The commissioners spent Feb. 19 trying to figure out a way to make the necessary cuts to the county's general fund and the sheriff's budget in particular, because it is always one of the largest among the officeholders.

Auditor Mary Snider certified available revenue for 2009 at $17.6-million, which means that the county budget is about 9 percent less than the actual revenue for 2008.

"By law," Hall said, "we must use the auditor's certified revenue estimate."

The general fund for 2008 was $20-million.

This year, the general fund budget is 1.5 percent less than the 2008 actual general fund expenditures.

"To keep cuts at just 1.5 percent less than what was actually spent last year will require the use of $2-million from year-end cash reserves of $5.4-million to meet a current year general fund budget of $19.6-million," Hall said.

Cuts were made across the board, but the sheriff's budget was about to take a hit.

Originally, Lee said, Nelson's budget request was for $5,796,618, but the target was $5,110,776 inclusive of Tri-County Jail. The Tri-County Jail budget is $1,477,636.

For operation and personnel, the sheriff's office has a budget of $3,633,140.

In 2008, the sheriff's office, less Tri-County Jail, had expenses of $3,688,467, and a 1.5-percent budget reduction drops it to $3,633,140.

"We said to the sheriff in the last week of December we're going to have to make cuts," said Lee. "So, he reduced his request $206,050."

In early January, as the commissioners examined sales tax revenues, Lee said it was obvious that they were going to need to reduce the overall budget by 1.5 percent in actual expenditures.

"In running the math on that meant the sheriff needed to cut an additional $481,184," Lee said.

Nelson trimmed $115,373 from the budget by not filling positions.

"That still left us in the red by $365,807," Lee said.

By not ordering cruisers for the 2009 fleet rotation, Nelson was able to apply the funds to his budget and make the necessary cuts.

"We had not accounted for the revenues that PSOs (public safety officers) create from townships paying in," Lee said.

The credit for revenue coming in took the number down to $223,492 needing to be cut.

"That had to be people," he said. "Just to meet the contracts was hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Once the union representatives had all of the details, they went back to their membership and explained the situation.

All three unions agreed to cut their own wages to stop the layoffs and possibly bring back some of the employees who were being laid off.

After the commissioners met with Nelson, they waited to release details of the budget until Feb. 20 so the sheriff would have time to notify his employees that eight people were losing their jobs, positions would be changing and he faced further cuts.

Even before they got to the personnel, Nelson said in a news release that he had cut his operating budget to the "bare bone." He canceled the cruisers, did not fill open deputy and corporal positions and reduced fuel usage and costs.

Once the news spread through the sheriff's office of the cuts, Lee said the unions invited the commissioners and the administration in for discussions.

As commissioners work toward completing the budget, Lee said, he is hoping they will not have to make additional cuts.

"But if revenue projections come up short, they will have to be considered," he said.