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Contract negotiations with both Niagara County Sheriff's Department unions were virtually settled Friday, although no details were released.

William R. Schiavitti, president of the Deputy Sheriffs Association, which represents corrections officers, said, "I'm 99.9 percent sure we're entering into a tentative agreement on Monday." That is when one more negotiating session is scheduled.

Capt. James R. Meierer, president of the Police Benevolent Association, which represents patrol deputies and investigators, declared, "There's just a bit of economics and a little bit of non-economics. We're right on course."

He said one more meeting next week, on a date to be determined, should seal the deal.

County Attorney Edward P. Perlman said, "We've gotten quite close and anticipate reaching an agreement next week. . . . There will be quite a bit of work among the lawyers and the representatives to make sure the (contract) language comports with our mutual understanding."

The two unions, which were formerly unified under the Deputy Sheriffs Association name, have been working under the terms of a contract that ran out Dec. 31, 1997. They split in May 1998. Each represents about 130 employees.

"We have different concerns and needs," Schiavitti said.

Throughout the talks, however, officials speaking privately have remarked that the two unions seemed to want to make sure the other didn't receive a higher pay settlement.

Schiavitti said Friday, "Obviously, we wouldn't want to receive less."

Talks moved fitfully for several months. On July 8, state Public Employment Relations Board mediator Charles E. Leonard held his first meeting with the sides.

On Aug. 3, the deputies, upset with the lack of results, picketed a County Legislature meeting. They followed that up Sept. 3 by demonstrating outside DeFlippo's Restaurant, a Lockport eatery owned by Legislator Gerald R. DeFlippo, chairman of the Legislature's Human Resources Committee.

On Sept. 7, picketing deputies showed up for another Legislature session, and Meierer signed up to speak during the public comment period. But before he could do so, Perlman intercepted him and urged him not to say anything that would anger the legislators.

He and Meierer agreed on the spot that Perlman would take over the role of negotiator in the PBA talks, and a marathon session three days later produced a breakthrough that seemed to have been cemented Friday.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Sheriffs Association had basically agreed to the county's economic offer Sept. 2, according to county Human Resources Director Albert T. Joseph.

The patrol deputies complained that they are the lowest paid full-time police officers in the county. The terms of the old contract set starting pay at $9.91 per hour, although Perlman said that pay applies only to trainees at the county Law Enforcement Academy.

Once in service, rookies are placed on the second step of the pay scale, which under the current contract is $11.72 per hour. Deputies reach top pay, $16.97 per hour, after four years.

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