Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has
Nassau’s comptroller and acting police commissioner came out swinging uncharacteristically hard at each over a scathing audit released Monday that laid blame on department leadership for a six-year, 93.7 percent increase in police overtime.
“Based on the audit,” Thomas Krumpter, the county’s acting police commissioner, wrote in a response, “One can only conclude that the comptroller is either incompetent, biased or has a political agenda.”
Asked about that assessment in an interview, Comptroller George Maragos said, “I’ve been called worse” — before standing his ground.
At issue is the audit, which determined the police department exceeded its overtime budget by $96 million from 2009 — a year the current Republican administration often uses for comparison because that was the last year a Democrat, former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, ran the county — through 2014.
What’s interesting is that Maragos and Krumpter agree on the overtime number. And on the fact that the county police department is a lean, mean overtime-making machine.
But that’s about where agreements end.
Maragos said the department has been underestimating overtime costs for years.
Nuh-uh, Krumpter retorts, because the budget — and the next word is mine, not his — hides funds within other budget lines to cover overtime increases that are anticipated because police officers have been retiring. In short, he’s saying, just because money isn’t in the overtime line doesn’t mean the department doesn’t have funds available to cover overtime elsewhere.
And Krumpter also said he believed Maragos was unfair by beginning to look at overtime in 2009 because one year later, the cost increased by $10 million — not because police were making more overtime, he said, but because provisions of a contract that went into effect in 2010 shifted $10 million in police costs to the county.
Maragos said the department isn’t doing what it should to control overtime.
That’s an assessment that makes Krumpter’s blood boil — or at least sound like it’s boiling — during an interview. “We spend a lot of time and effort working to control overtime costs,” he said. “But because of work rules and work-rule-related factors which dictate a lot of this, we’re managing on the margins.”
Maragos, in the audit, cited work rules — such as minimum staffing, which, among other things, dictates the number of officers the department must assign to posts.
The comptroller faulted the department for being unable to produce the work rules — which Krumpter said are complicated and spread across multiple binders that make up the police contract, information he said he provided to Maragos’ office.
Maragos also said the department was slow to computerize overtime information — a process Krumpter said began before Maragos suggested such a change in the audit.
He further said the department underestimated savings from a variety of initiatives, such as a failed precinct consolidation plan — while at the same time overestimating savings from police retirements.
Krumpter said Maragos has that all wrong. And, he said, Maragos ignored proof provided by the department — proof Maragos said the comptroller never received.
And so it goes.
But remember, they agree on the overtime figure. And that for six years, Nassau spent more than it estimated it would.
For Krumpter, he said, it was a choice between spending $140 million in personnel costs — by hiring more officers — or $120 in overtime.
He said the department opted for the lower cost.
OK, Maragos said, but there’s a way to deal with that too.
By raising projections to make them accurate. And then by working to keep within the bigger budget.