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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Under Bellone, number of Suffolk managers up, union staff dips

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in his Hauppauge

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in his Hauppauge office on Feb. 1, 2017. Credit: Ed Betz

What goes down must come up.

Or at least that’s the theory in Suffolk when it comes to officials defending increases in nonunion employees during County Executive Steve Bellone’s time in office.

Since December 2012, the end of Bellone’s first year in office, the number of management employees has gone up.

While, during the same period, the number of union employees has gone down.

Bellone — trust me — won’t like reading this.

Still, those are the facts.

The county executive believes stating them thusly to be unfair. Bellone’s preference: Push the baseline for charting management staff increases back before he assumed office.

Back, instead, to the spring of 2011. That was when then-County Executive Steve Levy, as part of an agreement with Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office, announced that he would not seek a third term — which, given Levy’s popularity, he almost certainly would have won. As part of the deal — the specifics of which, to this day, remain secret — Levy also turned over money raised by his campaign to the DA.

In the months following the number of management employees working for him fell. By the time his term ended that December, that number was down to its lowest level in years.

Bellone — who rode in on a pledge to fix Suffolk’s finances — decided to make further cuts in management staff, a move that allowed Suffolk to “run lean” for a time, he said. But as Bellone’s first term stretched into a second, management staff numbers went back to Levy administration levels.

By Bellone’s reckoning, he didn’t significantly increase management staff — which grew by almost 19 percent since December 2012, even as the number of union employees dropped by 4.2 percent. Instead, he said, he restored needed staff.

“We brought on what we needed to handle public policy and run government,” he said Tuesday, noting that some of the increase came when Suffolk took on additional duties, including processing of traffic and parking violations.

Bellone also chafed — mightily, I might add — at the notion of charting management increases over his time in office, and comparing them with the shrinking number of union positions over the same period.

“The story is ridiculous,” he said, referring to a Newsday report Sunday that — using numbers provided by the county — did just that. “

“You are writing a false narrative,” Bellone, a Democrat, said. “How did we reform the government and make it more efficient? We tried to fill positions that drove public policy.” To link that with the shrinking union workforce is unfair, he said.

What does Levy, a Republican who now runs a public-policy consulting firm, make of Bellone’s preferred method of comparison?

“Back then, we were getting seven straight bond-rating increases and the budget was in relatively good condition,” Levy said in an interview. “Now,” he said, “things look like they’re morphing into Nassau.”

Legislative critics at the time said Levy left behind a county struggling with a $100 million budget deficit. Bellone also has said he inherited a massive budget deficit from Levy.

In a follow-up email, Levy said, “While there is a lot of attention on management employees, the impact on the budget is not that great; the big money is with the benefits and pensions of the entire work force, especially with the police department where salaries are unsustainable,” Levy said in a follow-up email.

“The most recent police contract is more of a budget buster than the new management employees that were hired over the last few years.”

All of which raises that other gravity-related question: Will what went up, ever come down?


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