Suffolk passes final cop contract, despite cost warnings

An undated file photo of a Suffolk police An undated file photo of a Suffolk police vehicle. Photo Credit: Newsday/Alan Raia

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Suffolk County lawmakers approved the third and final major police contract Tuesday despite warnings from legislative budget officials about the total cost of the agreements.

The new contract with police brass passed Tuesday -- plus those for detectives and rank-and-file police officers, approved earlier in County Executive Steve Bellone's administration -- will increase county costs by $372 million through 2018, according to the legislative Budget Review Office.

The 2014 adopted budget for police is $681 million, excluding some benefit costs that could not be identified Tuesday, said Budget Review director Robert Lipp.

"Crafting a budget for 2015 and beyond will be a challenge," Lipp said in a memo on Feb. 26.

Bellone administration officials called the three police contracts the best they could obtain. If agreements hadn't been reached, the contracts would have gone to binding arbitration for settlement by a third-party arbitrator. That could have cost more, the officials said.

Administration officials said there will be savings in the new contracts, with new hires taking longer to reach the top pay scale and paying a portion of their health insurance.

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Dennis Cohen, the chief deputy county executive who negotiated with the police unions, said given past arbitration decisions the contracts represent "the best deal we could've gotten for the taxpayers of Suffolk County."

Connie Corso, administration budget director, said the contracts bring "certainty to the budget process."

The discussion about the police contracts comes as Suffolk faces a $100 million structural deficit this year, with recurring revenue continuing to lag behind expenses.

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who abstained from the otherwise unanimous vote for the Superior Officers Association contract Tuesday, said Suffolk can't afford the contract. He noted that the county sold its headquarters, the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, and is leasing it back, and that Suffolk will borrow $87 million this year to pay employee pensions.

"I don't want to end up like Nassau County, with salaries frozen," said Trotta, referring to a wage freeze imposed by Nassau's financial control board.

The agreement with the Superior Officers Association will cost $55.4 million through 2018. The contract negotiated in 2012 with the Police Benevolent Association, the county's largest police union, will cost $268.7 million more, while the 2013 agreement with the Suffolk Detectives Association will cost $47.8 million more over the period, the Budget Review Office said.

Asked about the concerns about police spending expressed by the Budget Review Office, Tim Morris, president of the Suffolk County Superior Officers Association, said: "The county signed the agreement with me. I assume they can afford it."

Cohen said the county will be able to afford the contracts, while keeping Bellone's commitment not to pierce the state-imposed property tax cap.

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During the legislative debate Tuesday, Trotta also noted that future hires under the Superior Officers agreement will get an education bonus if they get degrees -- but current police officers, detectives and superior officers will get the bonus regardless.

"We're giving pay increases for educations they don't have?" Trotta asked during legislative debate.

"That's correct," said Jennifer McNamara, acting director of county labor relations.

Morris said most of his 440 members already have higher education degrees, so the bonuses are merited.

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The contracts

Suffolk's three police contracts will increase county costs by an estimated $372 million through 2018. They are:

$268.7 million for the Police Benevolent Association, the county's largest police union, approved in 2012;

$55.4 million for the Superior Officers Association, approved Tuesday; and

$47.8 million for the Suffolk Detectives Association, approved in 2013.

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