BERNALILLO — The Sandoval County Commission voted 4-1 to approve the negotiated collective bargaining agreement between the county and the New Mexico Coalition of Public Safety Officers during Thursday evening’s meeting.

Commissioner Jay Block represented the dissenting vote in support of the agencies impacted, notably the sheriff’s deputies.

He told the Observer the county could’ve done more when it comes to increasing first responders’ pay.

“They haven’t had a raise in a long time, and these negotiations have been just strung out,” he said. “Deputies are losing money. I hold our first responders at a different level because they’re putting their lives on the line every single day.”

The articles in the CBA discuss matters ranging from compensation and leave of absence policies to internal investigations — with pay being at the forefront.

“(Pay’s) the highest priority because it means so much to so many people,” Deputy County Manager Robert Doucette Jr. said, adding negotiations never got out of hand.

Notable benefit changes in the CBA include the new cost-sharing ratio between the county and employees for basic insurance packages — including health, dental and long-term disability. Historically, the ratio’s been 70 percent county to 30 percent employee.

Under the agreement, the ratio for health insurance will be 80 percent county to 20 percent employee. Additionally, basic life insurance, accidental death and disability coverage of up to $50,000 will be paid entirely by the county.

The county is currently paying 11.5 percent on retirement benefits for employees, but has the option to pay up to 13 percent.

“That’s something I want to look at,” Doucette Jr. said.

Other proposals under the CBA include a 2-percent pay raise for deputies. Though unsuccessful, Block suggested a 3-percent pay raise and/or extra retirement benefits. He told the Observer the county has the money to make a 3 percent raise or extra retirement benefits happen, adding Sandoval County has to compete with neighboring municipalities in that regard.

“I would’ve accepted one of those… I wanted the deputies, the first responders, to know I stand by them,” Block said. “To me, (a 2 percent raise) wasn’t enough. It didn’t meet their needs… We’ve lost so many deputies to other areas for higher pay, and it puts our county at risk. That’s how I look at it.”

He also said it’s not “asking much to support them a little bit more” because of the stresses and scrutiny they already endure.

The NMPSCO requested to reopen negotiations on March 23, 2020, but those negotiations were put on hold due to COVID-19. Negotiations commenced last October, with the county and NMPSCO resuming talks pertaining to a limited “reopener” of wages, retirement, shift bid and vehicles.

Thursday marked the end of this latest round of negotiations, but those talks can be revisited during the next cycle in March 2022.

“I look forward to it. I look forward to the dialog,” Doucette Jr. said.

The next county commission meeting is set for Thursday, Oct. 21, at 6 p.m.

Matt Hollinshead | Staff writer