Union contract will cost Iowa county’s taxpayers double original estimate


By Paul Brennan | Iowa Watchdog

DES MOINES, Iowa — Woodbury County’s new contract with the union representing its deputy sheriffs will cost taxpayers more than twice what the county board of supervisors had previously estimated.

At this week’s board of supervisors meeting, Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill informed the board and the public that instead of increasing costs by $40,000 as the board had claimed when it voted to ratify the new contract two weeks ago, the contract will actually increase costs by $82,104.

“I don’t think they deliberately tried to make it look like it was a lower figure. I think they just didn’t understand the numbers or the impact of what they were voting on, which is concerning,” Gill told Iowa Watchdog.

Gill explained the higher number results from a provision of the new deal that reduces the number of years on the job deputies must complete to qualify for certain promotions.

“That will put several people in a new category and qualifies them for wage increases,” Gill said.

Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement the county has with the Communications Workers of America, which represents the county’s deputies, details of the new one-year contract couldn’t be made public until after the board ratified it.

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS: Woodbury County’s new contract with its deputies twice as much as the board of supervisor said it would. The board voted on the contract without getting an estimate of the cost from the county auditor.

“After they ratified it, they made a one-page memo public,” Gill said. “It didn’t have much information. It was a pretty sketchy memo.”

It was also the same memo members of the board relied on to understand the terms of the contract before voting to ratify it.

Board of Supervisors Chairman George Boykin conceded the memo lacked specifics, but didn’t see that as a problem because the information came from Douglas Phillips, the attorney the board hired to negotiate with the union.

“He’s handled these sort of negotiations for the county for many years. We’ve been satisfied with how he’s handled negotiations,” Boykin said.

“It’s not a surprise that numbers end up higher when you adjust the terms of a contract. It wasn’t a situation where we were unaware that the agreement would cost the county additional funds,” Boykin explained.

“Standard procedures were followed in these negotiations. I’m satisfied with what transpired.”

Both Boykin and Gill said part of those standard procedures is getting an estimate of how much a contract will cost from the county auditor’s office.

Gill said that didn’t occur this time.

“We didn’t get the details until after it was ratified and sent to us, so we could adjust the payroll starting in July,” Gill said. The auditor’s office is responsible for the county’s payroll.

“It wasn’t until my deputy in charge of payroll starting working on it that we realized the numbers didn’t mesh,” Gill said.

Asked if there had been an estimate from the auditor’s office while the contact was being negotiated, Boykin said specific questions about the procedures would have to be answered by Phillips.

“I don’t have any comment. I can’t answer any of your questions about negotiations,” Phillips told Iowa Watchdog.

Informed of Phillips’ response, Boykin repeated he was confident standard procedures had been followed.

Contact Paul Brennan at pbrennan@watchdog.org