Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Friday signed off on a long-awaited class of Suffolk police recruits, but some county lawmakers questioned whether it'll be large enough to make up for retirements and other departures.
Bellone approved the hiring of 40 new officers to start at the police academy on Oct. 28. While his 2013 budget didn't specify the class size, administration officials initially said they expected to hire 75 officers.
Bellone still hopes to get to that number by next summer by moving 36 county parks police officers into the Suffolk Police Department. He said he soon will request state legislation necessary to transfer the officers. Bellone said the addition of 75 officers would save $1 million annually in overtime.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said, "With parks police coming over, we determined a class size of 40 was appropriate."
But Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), public safety committee chairwoman, said lawmakers believed that approving a 2.6 percent police district tax hike for 2013 would pay for 75 new police officers.
"There's a lot of work to be done," said Browning, noting that the transfer of parks police is not a certainty. "We thought the police tax increase was for a class of 75, so then to say there's only going to be 40, it's a little disappointing."
Administration officials said their planned police hiring will keep up with attrition. About 80 officers have left the department since Jan. 1, leaving 2,354 filled sworn police positions.
Officials said this month's class will be the first to enter under a lower salary scale for new hires negotiated in the contract reached last year between Bellone and the police union.
Based on that scale, costs in 2014 for the new class of 40 will be $706,000 less than under the old system.
Bellone also has proposed a police class of another 50 in his 2014 budget -- which seeks a 2.34 percent police district tax hike.