Last updated: February 19. 2013 10:01PM - 574 Views

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The union representing Luzerne County probation officers is requesting cancellation of 10 layoffs in exchange for $300,000 in concessions.

The proposed 2013 budget calls for about $600,000 in probation salary cuts, or the equivalent of 10 unionized probation officers.

County officials have pointed to a 2011 state report indicating Luzerne County probation officers have an average caseload of 83, compared to state average of 148.

The county union – the County Court Appointed Professional Employees Association – said the report's data may be inconsistently collected from counties and is more than two years old, according to a letter the union emailed to county council and other county officials Thursday.

The letter said caseloads have increased by more than 300 this year.

It is anticipated these numbers will continue to climb as the current backlog of criminal cases continues to be eliminated, the letter said.

County probation officers have face-to-face contact with 58.95 percent of offenders monthly, compared to an average 27.87 percent in similarly-sized counties, the letter said.

This is a dramatic operational difference and one which the Luzerne County Courts does not want to change, the letter said. Combined with the higher-than-average percentage of felons, any reduction in contact frequency could be dangerous for the residents of Luzerne County.

County Manager Robert Lawton proposed the 2013 budget and said changes are up to council.

Lawton's budget proposed an $8.3 million allocation for probation salaries and benefits, a reduction of about $581,213. The court had requested $537,213 in salary/benefit reductions.

Court Administrator Michael Shucosky said the court has no control over the acceptance of concessions because council controls the budget and union contracts.

After the funds are allocated, the court has responsibility to spend the funds in a way that ensures operations continue without any threat to public safety, Shucosky said.

A staff position listing says the proposed budget funds 60 probation officer positions.

The union letter said the department has 38 fewer employees than it did in 2008, and two or three veteran employees are expected to retire next year.

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