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New cameras could speed deal to lift Nassau wage freeze

New revenues from speed cameras could be the final piece needed for Nassau’s financial control board to reach a deal with County Executive Edward Mangano and the county unions to lift a three-year wage freeze, the board's chairman said Friday.

After Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo amended his budget proposal Thursday night to include speed cameras for Nassau and Suffolk, Jon Kaiman, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, said, “This could be the piece to make [a deal] economically viable.”

Kaiman said NIFA, which imposed a wage freeze three years ago to help the county cover its budget deficit, has wanted assurance from Nassau that it could cover the costs of new contract deals with its five unions if proposed concessions do not produce enough savings.

Although the county and unions argue that they have negotiated new contracts that will save the county tens of millions of dollars in the future, some NIFA calculations put the costs between $40 to $90 million before the savings kick in. Kaiman said the control board wants to make sure money is available if saving projections fall short.

“The particular item appears to be sufficient to cover the additional costs,” he said.

The county budget office, in its adopted multiyear financial plan, projects that speed cameras and other state initiatives will bring in $8 million in new revenues next year and $12 million every year after that. Cameras would be installed in school zones as a way to deter speeders and increase safety. Mangano's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Kaiman said he was in the process of calling together Mangano, County Comptroller George Maragos, Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) and Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) to go over the parameters of a deal.

“On hearing the news [about the budget amendment]," Kaiman said, “It’s now time to call the county leaders together to make a decision on how we’re going to make this work.”

He said he would ask the county for a "realistic estimate" of new revenues from the cameras.

Two weeks ago, Kaiman circulated a memo proposing unions give up all salary and step increases for 2011 and 2012 and defer payment of their 2013 pay hike until 2016. For that pay increase to occur, he said, Nassau would have to cover the costs from increased revenues.

The pay freeze, which unions are challenging in court, will expire March 14 unless NIFA extends it for another year.

The annual step increase for 2013, coming off a 2010 base, would be paid as soon as the unions agree to his plan. Other contractual pay increases and steps would occur in September rather than January under his plan.

Mangano and union leaders have met to discuss and amend the proposal, which Kaiman said was intended to kick-start new contract discussions. He said Friday that “we’re pretty close” to getting a deal in place.

James Carver, president of Nassau’s Police Benevolent Association, said,
"I welcome them having a meeting and moving forward to finally resolving this issue."

The wage freeze has saved the county at least $230 million but has frozen some county salaries as low as $23,500 for three years.

“If the revenues generated by the speed cameras are sufficient to offset the cost of lifting the wage freeze, then it would be win-win for the taxpayers and the county employees,” Maragos said.


 

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