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Nassau lawmakers pass union wage deals

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano works in his

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano works in his office in Mineola on Sept 12, 2013. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau County Legislature Monday night passed new agreements with major county unions in what officials called a significant step toward ending a three-year wage freeze for much of the workforce.

With cheers from employees in attendance, the legislature voted 19-0 to authorize a memorandum of agreement between County Executive Edward Mangano and the Civil Service Employees Association.

Lawmakers voted 13-0, with six of eight Democrats abstaining, for deals with the Police Benevolent Association, Detectives Association and the Superior Officers Association.

"This is an investment in each and every single one of us," PBA president James Carver said in a fiery speech to lawmakers before the vote.

He alluded to Democrats who had hinted they were not going to support the agreements, due to concerns about how the costs will be covered.

"Anyone who doesn't vote 'yes' is saying we're not worth that investment," Carver said. "And that's disgraceful."

The pacts -- which do not include the correction officers union -- must be ratified by the county's fiscal control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority.

If finalized, cost-of-living raises for current workers and "step" increases for length of service that have been frozen since early 2011 would be reinstated.

In addition, a lower salary scale will be set for future hires, who also would begin contributing to their health care plans.

"This burden has been on their backs for so long and has caused quite a bit of harm to many families here," CSEA president Jerry Laricchiuta said of the freeze, which NIFA imposed in 2011.

Democrats expressed doubt about revenue the Mangano administration has said will cover the deals' costs. Most estimates put the cost at between $120 million and $170 million over four years, counting savings from workforce attrition.

A key revenue component would come from new speed cameras in 56 school zones. But the state has yet to approve them. Under a Democratic Assembly bill in Albany, Nassau would have to split the revenues with local villages.

Legislative budget analysts have said the county was being overly optimistic on its camera revenue projections, which it had estimated at $25 million to $30 million a year. Deputy County Executive Tim Sullivan acknowledged Monday, "there's really no history out there for speed cameras."

A "home rule" message requesting state approval of the speed cameras failed Monday night after Democrats did not provide a supermajority for it to be passed on an emergency basis. The measure will be reconsidered at a meeting later this month.

"This administration has a clear history of overestimating revenues," said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport). He said "it wasn't easy" for the members of his caucus who abstained on the police deals.

Abrahams also noted questions about whether Nassau can afford the CSEA deal. But he said of the workers: "It's widely known that they are the lowest-paid workers in the county."

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said the agreements were "long overdue . . . It would've been a total injustice to keep the [wage freeze] going."

NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman has said he is awaiting state approval on the speed cameras, as well as legal advice on particular language in the deals. Monday night he said: "NIFA will continue to monitor the situation while we look for resolution on outstanding concerns."

NIFA has said the wage freeze saved $230 million.

Mangano said in a statement after the vote that "these concession agreements save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the present contracts, require employee contributions to health care and pensions and settle approximately $400 million in litigation."

Also Monday, County Comptroller George Maragos reported that Nassau's 2013 expenses exceeded its revenues by $96.6 million. But because the county borrowed $115.5 million to pay for employee severance, court judgments and tax refunds, it ended 2013 with a surplus of $54.7 million, he said.Maragos noted in his year-end report, which still must be confirmed by outside auditors, that Nassau's liability for property tax refunds increased to an estimated $325 million.With Celeste Hadrick

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