Nassau police officers would receive their first salary increase in nearly two years while newly hired cops would contribute to their health care and pension plans for the first time under a deal reached last week between County Executive Edward Mangano and the Police Benevolent Association.
But a major hurdle remains: The deal is contingent on the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state board in control of the county's finances, lifting a wage freeze imposed in 2011 on all county workers that it says saves the county more than $100 million a year. In exchange, the PBA would drop a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the freeze.
Mangano, a Republican running for re-election in November, said the agreement, which amends the PBA's existing labor contract, would save taxpayers $321 million from 2013 through 2017 through wage and benefit changes.
"This plan creates structural savings for the county of hundreds of millions of dollars at no additional cost to the taxpayer," he said.
NIFA officials said they have not been briefed on the deal. But board member Chris Wright said that for NIFA to lift the freeze, the county would have to match the $100 million in savings elsewhere.
$230M in back pay possible
The county was prompted to strike a deal with the PBA after a U.S. District Court judge ruled in February that NIFA no longer had the authority to suspend pay hikes and annual step increases. NIFA has appealed the ruling.
A county budget watchdog and some credit-rating agencies have said that, if Nassau lost the appeal, it could have to pay more than $230 million in retroactive back wages.
The PBA's board of governors approved the deal unanimously last week and the entire union membership will vote on the plan later this month. The agreement also must be approved by the county legislature.
The existing contract, signed by Mangano's predecessor, Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat who is running for his old job, was set to expire in 2015. The settlement agreement would extend that contract through 2017, but with lower annual salary increases each year than stipulated in the original contract.
"This settlement brings closure to the wage freeze, while also creating structural savings for the county," said PBA president James Carver. "It's a fair deal for our members, the county and for residents."
The PBA agreement does not affect other county law enforcement or civil service unions, all of which are also subject to the wage freeze. Mangano said he is negotiating with the other unions and that similar deals are expected in the coming months.
Civil Service Employees Association president Jerry Laricchiuta said his union was near the end of lengthy negotiations that he hopes may soon yield a similar agreement.
"I think they really are very similar, especially in regards to the new hires paying into health care and getting a new pay scale," he said. "The Nassau taxpayers would save tremendously into the future."
If the contract is approved by the PBA membership, the legislature and NIFA, Mangano said the county would hire 150 new police officers before the end of the year, and 350 more by the end of 2015 to replace its aging workforce. Nearly 80 percent of the department's workforce is eligible to retire by 2015.
The PBA's agreement -- which has been rumored for more than a year but never previously came to fruition -- calls for the county to pay officers half of the wage increases that had been frozen from 2011 through 2013. Those payments would be deferred, beginning in 2014 and continuing through 2016.
In 2014 and 2015, PBA members would receive salary increases of 1.87 percent -- half of the 3.75 percent that was stipulated in the original contract. Officers would then get a salary bump of 1.7 percent in 2016 and 1.75 percent in 2017 -- the final year of the extended contract.
The deal also mandates that newly hired police officers contribute 15 percent of the cost of their health care plans and between 3 and 6 percent to their pensions, depending on salaries. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone reached a similar agreement with Suffolk's PBA last August.
Over the next eight years, the county projects it would save an average of nearly $300,000 per police officer in salary, pension and health care costs.
The deal also reduces the number of officers who may take vacation and personal days at the same time -- a potentially significant change that is expected to result in roughly 200,000 fewer overtime hours annually, said Deputy County Executive Rob Walker.
New hires also would work on a different salary scale, with step increases occurring more gradually than under the original contract. It also would take an extra year for officers to reach a maximum salary of nearly $130,000.
The county also would add 50 new civilian police employees, a reorganization that would let 30 officers move from administrative positions to patrol, said First Deputy Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter.
Legislative Presiding Officer Norma L. Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said she was unaware of settlement, but said she would give the amended contract "serious consideration."
Legislative Democrats said they were unaware of the deal and declined to comment.
Suozzi said, "I am all for an agreement as long as it delivers substantial savings over the long term, satisfies NIFA and gets the police department working at the proper [staffing] levels."
His primary opponent, Adam Haber, said, "Any agreement must resolve the increased level of debt the county will incur."
With Paul LaRocco