STEUBEN COUNTY, N.Y. (WENY) -- Another legal battle is brewing in Steuben County, this time between the Deputies Association of the County of Steuben and the County. The Deputies Association wrote a letter to the community on Friday, November 17th saying its bargaining unit has been out of a contract since December 31st, 2020.

"Our bargaining unit consists of basically the Deputy Sheriffs of the Sheriff's Office. The road patrol deputies, the criminal investigators, the lieutenants, the sergeants, and court security. Our bargaining unit has been out of contract since the end of 2020 and in that time, our unit attempted to notify the county that we were ready to negotiate back in [20]21. They delayed it through their attorney several times until 2022," said Deputies Association Investigator, Donald Lewis.

In the letter from the Deputies Association, they said they reached out multiple times to the county's administration "in an effort to provide our members with fair and equitable pay."

In a press release from Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler and Deputy County Manager Christopher Brewer, it said the County has been in contact negotiations with the Deputies Union from 2021 to 2023 and wasn't able to agree.

In the County and Deputy County Manager's press release, "The County began negotiations in 2022, offering an average of 9.27% in 2022 (which would've exceeded the increases of all other County employees for that year), and 3% in 2023. The County did not propose a salary increase in 2021 due to the economic conditions at the time, which was in line with what the majority of County staff received that year. The Deputies would also receive an annual stipend of $1,500 if they maintained their EMT certification (which they earned while being paid), and health insurance contributions would increase [by] 1%. Taken together, their wages would have increased 16.2% over the three years."

Lewis said the numbers in the arbitration award are below inflation rates, and they're looking for fair and equitable pay.

"The outcome that we would like is just fair and equitable pay so that we can retain and recruit new employees, new deputies so we're not losing them to other agencies. [So], we can continue to provide Steuben County with the best law enforcement agency that we can," said Lewis.

Since the two parties couldn't agree, the negotiations were taken into a mediation and arbitration process through the New York State Public Employee Relations Board (NYSPERB).

NYSPERB decided the County had to pay retroactive pay for 2021 to all unit members employed during that year. It says the unit members "shall receive three percent of the wages reported on their 2020 Federal W-2."

"[The] arbitration award was put out on September 25th. The arbitrator actually stated the award had to be paid within [a certain time frame.] Now we're at November 20th, six weeks [have] since elapsed and we've heard nothing from the county. They still haven't paid either the retroactive pay or the increase in salaries of our members," said Lewis.

According to Wheeler and Brewer, "Although no member of the Steuben County Administration or Personnel have been served with the decision of the Arbitration Panel, we are aware an award is posted on the PERB website. The majority decision of that Panel, which includes a member of the Deputies Association, exceeded the amounts actually requested by the Deputies Association at arbitration, which is unprecedented in New York State labor relations. That is why we are currently evaluating the decision with our labor counsel. Our proposals demonstrate that Steuben County values our men and women in law enforcement and that we are willing to provide significant wage adjustments. The Deputies Association chose arbitration, which takes a great deal of time. Our hope was to provide those members this meaningful increase in 2022 and 2023 and begin negotiations on a new contract for 2024 and beyond."

One of the things Lewis said the Deputies Association is hoping for is to be comparable to wages in other counties.

"We want to be comparable to the counties like Livingston, Ontario, Cattaraugus, [and] Chemung that are that are comparable demographics and geographic to where we are. We're on an average of about 25 percent behind them and that's [dating] back to 2020," said Lewis.

In the press release, Wheeler and Brewer said they have a great respect for the work of the members of the Deputies Association, and we hope this is amicably resolved in the near future. "Steuben County has continuously demonstrated our commitment to law enforcement, as evidenced by the fact that the budget for Road Patrol has been increased by 63.99% from 2017 to 2023. Accusations that Steuben County is offering minimal increases in an effort to 'defund the police' are both insulting and not factual...Characterizations that County government is 'unjust, unfair, and not fiscally responsible' are unwarranted and unproductive."

Below, you can find the initial letter from the Deputies Association, the response from Wheeler and Brewer, the Deputies Association's Contract from 2017 to 2020, and the arbitration award for Jan. 1st, 2021 to Dec. 31st, 2022.