Suffolk reaches deal with police union

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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The Suffolk County Legislature is poised to vote on a proposed $268.7 million eight-year police union contract Tuesday, following approval of the agreement Thursday by a legislative committee.

In a presentation to the Government Operations committee, Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider called the contract -- negotiated by County Executive Steve Bellone's office and the Suffolk Police union -- a "game changer" because the accord was reached without arbitration, as previous contracts had required.

"This is an important part of making officers more affordable," Schneider told legislators.

The panel passed the contract unanimously.

The contract would lower the starting salary for new recruits to $42,000 a year and increase the time required for officers to reach the maximum salary step to 12 years, from five years currently.

New officers also would contribute 15 percent toward their health insurance premiums, and have job security through 2018 via a no-layoff clause.

Bellone originally projected the cost of the contract to be $183.1 million.

However, the legislature's nonpartisan Budget Review Office identified $85.6 million in additional costs, including $45.8 million in retirement expenses and $13.8 million for Social Security.

The budget office report said the contract would result in overall savings of $43 million by avoiding retroactive pay. But while noting "long term savings" the budget office warned of "substantial costs associated with the proposed salary increases averaging 3.4 percent [for] existing" officers.

Schneider told lawmakers Thursday that recent arbitration awards to other municipal police unions mandated 3 percent to 3.5 percent raises without any givebacks.

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) praised the administration and Suffolk Police Benevolent Association leaders for avoiding arbitration by hashing out an agreement.

"I saw there was a give and take -- that's important," Cilmi said. "In the last several years we didn't' have that. . . . It bodes well for our future."

But committee members William Spencer (D-Huntington), Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) questioned a contract provision that would transfer highway patrol responsibilities from the county Sheriff's Department to the county police. Former County Executive Steve Levy pulled the duties from cops in 2008 in what he called a cost-cutting measure.

Browning asked Bellone's chief legal adviser Dennis Cohen why he didn't talk first with the sheriff's union and officials before inserting highway patrol in the PBA deal.

Cohen said reaching an agreement with the sheriff's union first would have "complicated" negotiations with the PBA. He said the administration planned to meet with the sheriff's union to resolve the issue.

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