Amityville wants to cap village police salaries

An Amityville Police car sits on the side An Amityville Police car sits on the side of Broadway in Amityville Village on Tuesday, February 25, 2014. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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A majority of Amityville's trustees have signed a letter seeking to cap the pay of top-earning officers in the village police department, a move they say would save $800,000 over the four years remaining in the current contract.

The proposal, which would need the agreement of the union that represents Amityville's police, would cap base pay for officers whose total earnings -- including salary, overtime and extras like night differential -- exceeded $150,000 in 2013.

Trustee Nick LaLota said 20 of the 24 officers on the payroll earned over that threshold last year. The top earner was Chief Donald J. Dobby, a 29-year veteran whose base wages were $181,282.40 in 2013, according to the village payroll.

The proposal, outlined in a letter to the police union president Wednesday, comes as village officials prepare their 2014-2015 budget and weeks after the release of a New York State comptroller's report that identified Amityville as one of the most fiscally stressed villages in the state.

Experts said the move was not unprecedented -- a handful of school districts reopened teacher contracts in recent years.

"A slow-recovering economy and the tax cap have heightened the efforts of local officials to negotiate affordable and sustainable police contracts," Peter A. Baynes, executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors, wrote in an email. The state tax cap generally restricts tax levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

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Amityville's proposal also calls for an increase in the starting pay of new officers, from $42,000 to the village median income of $78,009. The village will hire at least two new officers later this year, LaLota said.

Three of the five trustees -- Mayor James Wandell, Trustee Jessica Bernius and LaLota -- signed the letter in support of the plan. Trustees Dennis Siry and Kevin Smith said they had not signed the letter because they needed more time to evaluate the proposal. The letter asks Village Police Benevolent Association chief Chris Mullen to respond by March 10.

Amityville's payroll shows that 21 officers were paid more than any other village employees last year. Police spending accounts for more than $4.7 million of the $15.2 million total village budget.

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The letter asks police for a financial sacrifice "in our time of need . . . The savings will be used to fund new officers' pay raises, capital projects like roads and important programs like tax relief."

LaLota said residents would face double-digit tax increases unless the proposal is enacted. "If you want to deal with village finances, you have to deal with the biggest source of problems, and police spending adds up to a third of the budget," he said.

Mullen criticized a plan he said would "save money on the backs of the police."

Amityville's police contract was negotiated by the previous administration in 2013 and calls for parity with the Suffolk County PBA on most pay and benefits issues.

Village residents have twice voted to keep their police department independent from Suffolk, and village officers often draw praise at board meetings. They do not investigate felonies, which are referred to Suffolk police, but respond to emergency calls within two minutes and patrol the village's 2.5-square miles with two to four cruisers at all times.

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In 2013, according to the department, officers fielded 6,280 calls for service and made 438 arrests. The department referred 75 felony cases to Suffolk for further investigation.

In 2012, the last year for which statistics were available, there were 10 violent crimes and 200 property crimes reported in the village, figures that Dobby wrote earlier this year show "the residents of the Village of Amityville are receiving great service."

Richard Wells, president of the Police Conference of New York, an association of 230 police unions across the state, said unions have made substantial concessions since the recession. "The first reaction now seems to be . . . go after public employees," he said.

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