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Judge rules NIFA wage freeze is legal

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano delivers the 2014

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano delivers the 2014 State of the County Address on Tuesday, March 11, 2014. The speech was held at "The Space in Westbury." Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A state court judge declared Wednesday that Nassau's financial control board has the authority to suspend all pay increases for county employees, rejecting union arguments that a 3-year-old wage freeze is illegal.

Supreme Court Justice Arthur M. Diamond ruled in three lawsuits filed by county unions that the Nassau Interim Finance Authority "did not exceed its authority to impose wage freezes in 2011, 2012 and 2013."

Three years ago, Diamond found that NIFA had the right to impose financial controls on the county.

Diamond's ruling Wednesday came as the first of five expected union deals to lift the freeze was filed with the county legislature.

County Executive Edward Mangano submitted a Memorandum of Agreement with the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association calling for new police recruits to pay 15 percent toward their health insurance premiums and contribute to their pensions. Salary increases and annual pay steps that had been frozen since March 2011 would resume next month.

NIFA on Monday outlined conditions that unions and the county would have to fulfill to lift the wage freeze. NIFA members did not have copies of the union agreements and it was not clear Wednesday if the PBA deal would satisfy NIFA's conditions.

PBA president James Carver said Wednesday, "We feel our agreement fits the guidelines that NIFA approved Monday through a resolution." A Mangano representative did not respond to a request for comment.

NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman said staff will review the proposed PBA deal to make sure it complies with NIFA's instructions. Otherwise, he said, the NIFA board will not approve the proposed contract, which would run through 2017.

Kaiman said the union deals must not cost more than about $122 million over four years. NIFA is requiring Nassau to set aside $129 million in new revenue from speed cameras, sales taxes and mortgage recording fees to cover the contract costs if concessions do not generate expected savings.

County officials hope to hire a new police class of 160 to 170 members by the end of the month. However, Frank Moroney, spokesman for legislative Presiding Officer Norma L. Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), said lawmakers first must make certain that the PBA deal doesn't conflict with Diamond's ruling.

He noted the PBA memorandum does not list costs. "The fiscal impact is the only thing that matters," Moroney said. "We're going to try to figure out the financial impact. It's going to be slow, it's going to be deliberate and it's going to be accurate."

The Civil Service Employees Association and the Detectives Association were expected to file proposed contracts Wednesday night.

"We were able to come to an agreement," said CSEA president Jerry Laricchiuta. "Despite the court ruling, we still get some movement with steps and raises for our members who are really suffering." He declined to provide details before a membership meeting today.

The county's unions had argued in federal court that the freeze was unconstitutional and also that NIFA's authority to freeze pay had expired. A federal judge agreed NIFA's authority had expired but an appeals panel in September overturned the decision and said a state court should interpret state law.

Diamond ruled that nowhere "in the Public Authorities Law . . . is there any reference to any time limitation to the authorization to impose a wage freeze during a Control Period; instead, this Court finds that the language of the statute, when read as a whole, supports the finding that NIFA was authorized to freeze wages at any time during a Control Period."

John Jaronczyk, president of the Nassau County Sheriff's Correction Officers Benevolent Association, Laricchiuta and Carver said they expected to appeal Diamond's decision.

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