Precinct plan OK'd, but questions remain

Nassau Police cars outside the fifth precinct on

Nassau Police cars outside the fifth precinct on Jan. 30, 2012 in Elmont, New York in this file photo. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

The Nassau Legislature gave County Executive Edward Mangano the authority Monday to transform four police precincts into community policing centers, but questions persist about how the plan will be funded and implemented.

Democrats are threatening to block the administration from borrowing $50 million for a police retirement incentive -- a critical element of the precinct realignment. Mangano accused Democrats of "obstructing the will of the people."

The legislature approved the precinct changes in a 10-9 party-line vote, with every Republican voting for the plan. But Democrats prevented the GOP from calling an emergency vote on the incentive. The measure will go before the legislature March 19.

The administration wants to get at least 100 high-paid police officials to take the incentive, potentially saving the county $20 million annually in salary and benefit costs. While Republicans have the votes to pass the incentive, bonding requires a 13-vote supermajority, including at least three Democrats.

Democratic Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said his caucus "has huge reservations" about the incentive.

"There are too many unanswered questions," said Abrahams, who has asked for an independent cost analysis of the incentive by the Office of Legislative Budget Review.

Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) said delaying a vote on the incentive would cost the county $350,000 per week in wages.

The legislature has $14 million available in a police reserves fund that can be used for the incentive, but union leaders suspect at least $30 million will be needed. Without new borrowing, Mangano said lower-paid officers would be laid off, saving the county less money.

"It is irresponsible for the Democrats to play politics with a plan that saves taxpayers money," said Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin. "The county executive trusts that at least three Democrats will come to their senses to pass this plan rather than lay off newer police officers."

More than 60 police officials are interested in signing up for the incentive, with their departures expected to save the county $10 million, said Deputy County Executive Rob Walker.

The staffing and long-term viability of the community policing centers also remains in doubt, because it is the subject of negotiation between Mangano and the county's three police unions.

The unions want Mangano to codify in writing that all 177 sector cars would remain in place and the centers would remain open in perpetuity and be staffed with detectives and a deputy commanding officer. Mangano agreed to put in writing that the sector cars would stay the same and will consider the other changes, he said.

The realignment will begin within 30 days, Mangano said, with the staff of the Eighth Precinct -- which will become a policing center -- merging with the Second Precinct. The other changes will occur in 60-day intervals thereafter.

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