Suffolk deputy sheriffs yielded patrols of the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway to police officers late Tuesday night, as the county and the deputies union tried to hammer out a permanent solution to their dispute over highway patrols.
County Executive Steve Bellone and Sheriff Vincent DeMarco agreed Tuesday to the patrol changeover, without the deputies union's consent. The administration had been negotiating with the union over a proposal to give its 260 members more pay and new security duties at Suffolk's traffic violations bureau in exchange for relinquishing the patrols, according to a high-level legislative source. An agreement failed to materialize in time for a vote at Tuesday's legislative meeting.
"The only thing we know is that we don't have a deal in place," said deputies union president Anthony Prudenti. He said he "totally disagreed" with pulling deputies off highways as talks continued.
Sheriffs pulled out their seven sector cars at 10 p.m. in what county officials said was a "smooth transition."
Discussions about the patrols occurred as county lawmakers gave unanimous approval to the $2.77 billion county budget for 2013. The spending plan includes a 2.6 percent hike in the police district property tax, which will raise the average homeowner's tax bill in Suffolk's five western towns by $27.70 next year. County general property taxes remained flat.
Lawmakers previously added $2.7 million to Bellone's budget by adjusting revenue estimates and reducing spending.
At the time of the budget vote, Bellone and DeMarco issued a statement saying the switch would occur at 10 p.m. Tuesday: "We will work together to ensure an orderly transition."
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said negotiations with deputies continue: "There's a lot of issues on the table that need to be resolved."
DeMarco's chief of staff Michael Sharkey Tuesday night said the transition does not end the fight. "The sheriff's deputies performed outstanding service upon those roadways in the most effective model," he said, "and current circumstances resulted in a redeployment pending outcome of the underlying litigation and dispute."
Former County Executive Steve Levy removed police officers from the highways in 2008, giving the duties to lower-paid sheriff's deputies. Before leaving office in 2011, Levy guaranteed that deputies would continue the patrols through 2017; deputies agreed to defer $4 million in retroactive pay until 2015.
Bellone, a Democrat who took office in January, returned patrols to police as part of an eight-year contract with the Police Benevolent Association. The legislature passed the contract last month. Deputies filed suit and had gotten a temporary order blocking the change. A State Supreme Court justice last week lifted the order.
Noel DiGerolamo, Suffolk PBA president, said his members were ready to reclaim their "rightfully assigned work" on the LIE and Sunrise.
Some legislators voiced surprise at the changeover announcement, given that a permanent pact had not been reached. "The legislature is a third party here," said Deputy Presiding Officer Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon). "But, frankly, I'm grateful that there appears to be peace in our time."
With Ellen Yan