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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Suffolk lawmaker raises red flag about cop contracts

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip on Wednesday, April 29, 2015, on behalf of 21 Latinos who live in Suffolk County, alleges that the Suffolk County Police Department targeted Latinos for race-based traffic stops, then robbed them or gave them unjustified summonses. Credit: Newsday / Alan Raia

A lone county lawmaker in Suffolk stated the obvious this week: the county can't afford the trio of big police contracts that'll boost costs by $372 million through 2018.

During the debate over a new contract for police brass, GOP lawmaker Robert Trotta even raised the prospect of Suffolk ending up like Nassau if the county does not change fiscal course.

Trotta, of Fort Salonga, was brave in speaking out -- as well as smart, politically, in abstaining rather than voting against the agreement. Doing otherwise could have made him an easier takedown target come re-election time.

Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone more than once has touted the benefits of three recently approved contracts with the county's major police unions.

There will come a point when Suffolk will save money on police salaries because new officers will earn less, take a long time to reach the top pay grade and become responsible for a portion of their health care plan payments.

Those savings will be substantial once new hires outnumber veterans in the department.

Some lawmakers would like to hire police now -- except, of course, that fiscally fragile Suffolk can't afford to bring in a new class of recruits.

But even if the county could, much of the initial savings would be negated by the additional cost of the recently approved contracts for officers, detectives and superior officers.

Collectively, those contracts will increase county costs by $372 million by 2018, placing strain on county budgets beginning next year.

Bellone and county lawmakers have said they made the best deal possible on the contracts, and that costs could have been higher if unsuccessful negotiations ended in binding arbitration.

There, a municipality's "ability to pay" is supposed to be taken into account. But more often than not, the municipality's ability to tax has been used to justify awards.

However, that calculation could have been different this time around given the state's 2 percent cap on property taxes.

Still, it's usually better for municipalities and employee unions to work it out on their own -- and for the benefits and challenges of the agreements to be aired in a public forum.

At a meeting Monday, Robert Lipp, director of the county legislature's budget review office, warned that with the contracts with the Superior Officers Association, the Police Benevolent Association and the Suffolk Detectives Assocation, "crafting a budget for 2015 and beyond will be a challenge."

But no one delved further, except Trotta -- who, in expressing his concern, noted that Suffolk already has sold off and leased back the H. Lee Dennison building in Hauppauge, and is borrowing $87 million to pay off pension costs this year.

"I don't want to end up like Nassau County, with salaries frozen," Trotta said.

In closing out his queries, Trotta asked if his estimate was accurate.

"That's correct," Lipp answered.

Then Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), the legislative presiding officer, asked if other lawmakers had questions

"Nope?" Gregory said, before moving to a vote.

The SOA contract, which will cost $55.4 million through 2018, passed unanimously, with Trotta abstaining.

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