Analysts: Suffolk cop contract will cost $268.7M

Officers during a graduation ceremony from the police Officers during a graduation ceremony from the police academy in Brentwood. (June 10, 2011) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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Legislative budget analysts say the new eight-year Suffolk police contract will cost county taxpayers $268.7 million -- $85.6 million more than the Bellone administration has estimated.

Of many extra costs, the legislature's Office of Budget Review estimates the three biggest to be: an extra $45.8 million in retirement, $13.8 million in added Social Security expenses and $21.1 million in higher personnel expenses associated with the last class of 60 that was hired in December 2011.

The county executive's office had estimated the cost of the contract at $183.1 million, but did not take into account those expenses.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said he has no issue with the budget review office's estimates. Asked why Bellone's budget office did not include retirement and Social Security costs, Schneider said it included only direct salary costs.

Schneider added that he believes savings will occur "as new, lower-paid officers come over the length of the contract."

The budget review report acknowledged that "in the short term, there are considerable savings associated with avoiding retroactive pay for 2011 and 2012, and some additional savings in 2013." But it also warned, "In the medium term, there are substantial costs associated with the proposed salary increases averaging 3.4 percent to existing members of the PBA."

The assessment also said that "in the long term there are considerable savings" as new recruits will be hired on a pay scale that requires 12 rather than five years to reach the top step and requires them to pay 15 percent of their health premiums.

According to budget analysts, in addition to $43 million in savings for avoiding retroactive pay, the new contract will cost $4.2 million this year, save $1.9 million next year, and cost $13 million in 2014, $28.9 million in 2015, $62.6 million in 2016, $74.9 million in 2017 and $86.5 million in 2018. Budget analysts also cautioned that the cost of the new contract will exceed recurring revenue generated under the 2 percent tax cap by 2014.

"It's a great contract if you're a cop, but its extremely expensive for the taxpayers of Suffolk County," said Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip). But he said he is undecided on supporting it because he is worried that arbitration could be more costly and not give the county the upfront savings that this deal does, "which could be fiscally devastating to us in the short run."

"It's a mixed bag," said Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon). "There are some good things for the taxpayers and some not so good." While concerned about the higher cost for veteran officers, Horsley said he is "leaning positively" toward approval because of the early cost savings, lower price for new officers and long-term contract certainty.

Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), said the contract requires "very thorough scrutiny" because it will last eight years. "My back of the envelope estimate is that we are going to have to have at least a 5 percent continued growth in property taxes in the police district. How do we reconcile a contract that pierces the [state] tax cap unless there are operational savings?"

Bellone aides defended the pact, saying recent arbitrations at the height of the recession have given other police unions 3.5 percent raises without givebacks.

"What every legislator has to ask is whether Suffolk County could get a better deal through arbitration than this one, which provides immediate savings and long-term savings with lower cost police officers who also pay a share of health premiums," said Schneider. Police union officials did not return calls for comment.

The contract will get its first airing before county lawmakers at its government operations committee Thursday. A ratification vote could come as soon as next Tuesday at the county legislature meeting in Riverhead.

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