Two and half years of negotiating contracts with seven of Ocean County’s law enforcement department still only yield three agreed upon contracts- leaving four department’s still in limbo and another round of contracts only months away.

According to Ocean County Administrator Carl Block, of the three rank and file unions for law enforcement; the prosecutor’s rank and file, sheriff’s rank and file, and corrections rank and file, two have been settled through the state mandated arbitration process which requires no longer than a 45 day wait period and limits raises to a 2% cap.

The prosecutor’s investigators and sheriff’s officers have had their awards submitted by the arbitrator. The rank and file were allowed to move onto their next pay step, and the top step received a 2% increase.

Block says they are still awaiting the hearing date for the corrections officers and then the award process will go through.

The four superior officer unions two in the prosecutor’s office, one in the sheriff’s office and one in corrections.

Block says one of the superior officer unions containing the lieutenant and captains has voluntarily settled with the Board of Freeholders along the same guidelines as the non unions which was a 1 ½% increase.

“Our position is that they are sort of management level if you will. Management here only got a 1 ½% increase and that’s what they settled for.”

Block says that offer was presented to the three remaining superior officer groups. Two of which say they are considering going to arbitration rather accepting the offer and the other has not given a response.

Though the superior officers unions are not subject to the 2% cap of the new arbitration process, Block says those that didn’t file will have to abide by the 45 day time limit.

Block notes since all of these departments work seven days a week, many year round, it is “an expensive operation” to maintain the necessary services.

“Law enforcement is expensive, whether it’s the sheriff’s which main responsibility, but not the only one, is judicial security. Twenty five judges, it’s a lot of people. And the prosecutor’s office you never know when the next crime you will have to deal with.”

So he notes while the state tries to be as fiscally conservative as possible, law enforcement has a state mandated right to arbitration and the county and the unions has been going through it because they can not agree to the size of the raises.

The current contract negotiations are for the 2010, 2011, and 2012 years; however soon the county will have to begin agreeing to contracts for 2013. However Block says the new rules will make it significantly quicker.

“March 31st of 2013 these contracts expire, so we’ll enter negotiations at the end of sometime this year and start it all over again. The big difference here is under the new timeframe rules, once we reach an impasse and file for arbitration, 45 days later we have an opinion.”