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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Unknown how many Nassau workers will actually take early retirement

Nassau County seal.

Nassau County seal. Credit: Nassau County

Nassau County proposed an early retirement incentive program for county civil service union members last week as a way to cut expenses because of a drop in sales-tax revenue.

But, really, how many Nassau Civil Service Employee Association employees -- even with the county offering a lump-sum payment of $1,000 per year of service -- would be willing to retire to pensions based in part on years of frozen wages?

"I thought about that, too," union president Jerry Laricchiuta said in an interview Friday.

But now he's surprised.

Very surprised.

"Our office is being inundated with hundreds of calls from members looking for information about the incentive," he said. "People are looking to get out because, I think, at this point, that they are disgusted."

Edward Mangano, Nassau's county executive, said Friday that his office, too, had received a few queries about the proposed incentive, which would have to clear both the county legislature and a state control board.

The incentive, if approved, would be the latest in a yearslong series of moves -- which began with former county executives Thomas Gulotta, a Republican, and Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat -- to cut costs by slimming Nassau's workforce.

In addition to the incentive, Mangano is seeking savings by moving some employees off the county payroll and over to a private firm that will manage Nassau's sewer and storm-water system.

And he's hired more police officers to reduce overtime in the department, once they are assigned to duty after graduating from the police academy in the fall.

The latest retirement incentive is supposed to help Nassau cut expenses because sales tax revenues are coming in significantly lower than expected. Nassau Comptroller George Maragos recently projected a potential $90 million shortfall as a result, although administration officials put it at $50 million.

What makes this incentive different from earlier ones is the wage freeze, which was lifted earlier this year.

The amount public employees, whether eligible union members or political appointees, receive in state pensions is calculated in part on salaries earned in the last three years of service -- which, incidentally, is why some public workers move to higher-paying jobs as a way to boost retirement pensions before they retire.

CSEA employees make up the largest contingent in Nassau's workforce, almost half of the county's 7,265 employees. But they are also the lowest paid, compared with police and other unions. For them, taking the incentive also would mean taking pensions based in part on two years of frozen wages in their last three years of service.

Mangano said the proposed incentive would be aimed primarily at CSEA workers in the state's top two pension tiers -- the 110 CSEA workers of retirement age who are in Tier 1 and Tier 2 pension plans -- which means those with the most seniority and the highest salary and pension costs.

He said there was no floor or ceiling on the number of workers who could take the proposed incentive. However, Mangano noted that Nassau, if necessary, could cap incentive retirements from individual departments or backfill essential jobs by transferring employees or hiring new ones. The new hires would earn less and, for the first time, pay into health care and pension costs under new union contracts.

"Even one employee accepting the incentive would be a savings," Mangano said. And, he said, "We would work so residents would not see an impact on county services."

Laricchiuta is not so sure.

"It's rough in some departments," he said. "What used to take a day, takes a week. What used to take a week, takes a month."

He said he knows that Nassau must cut costs, but "the county is going to have to replenish lost workers or we're going to end up like some of those counties in the South where you pay $1,000 a year in taxes and you get what you pay for."

Inquiring about the proposed incentive is not the same as taking one. Will there, as during past incentives, be another exodus from county government? And what impact would that have on residents' services?

Stand by.

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