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NIFA approves deals ending Nassau wage freezes, privatizing sewer system

Nassau's state fiscal control board Wednesday night approved a series of major deals that county leaders have waited months to complete -- from lifting a three-year wage freeze on nearly 1,000 correction officers to turning over management of the county sewer system to a private operator.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, meeting for the first time since mid-June, also OKd an early retirement incentive to members of the Civil Service Employees Association and lifted the wage freeze on more than 500 nonunion appointees.

But the pact with correction officers and the sewer contract have generated the most attention amid projections that Nassau could have up to a $77 million deficit at year's end, mostly due to increased salaries and declining sales tax revenue.

"They've paid the price," NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman said of county workers in explaining why there should be no more delays to the wage deals. "It's time for the county to figure out how to cover the additional shortfalls and costs through other means."

The agreement with the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, which officials say will cost an additional $19 million over four years, is the last of five contracts with the major county unions whose wages had been frozen since March 2011. The union's roughly 900 members will receive 13 percent raises through 2017, as well as service time step increases, if eligible.

Like the previously approved deals with the other county unions, new correction officers will pay 15 percent toward their health insurance if they choose a premium plan, or choose a cheaper plan and not contribute.

"There's a sense of relief for my members," said John Jaronczyk, the correction union president, noting that 85 have been stuck making less than $30,000.

County Executive Edward Mangano has raised fees and installed speed cameras in school zones to cover the short-term salary costs of all five deals. He says negotiated concessions will save millions in the long term, but legislative budget officials estimate that county salary expenses will be nearly $40 million over budget this year.

NIFA board member Chris Wright was the lone vote against lifting the freezes on correction officers and nonunion employees, as he was in May when the other four unions' deals were considered.

"I would be pleased to vote for both of these resolutions if I thought the county could afford them," Wright said, "but the problem I have is since [approval of the other deals] . . . it's only become clearer and clearer that the county can't afford them."

Meanwhile, the 20-year private management deal for Nassau's sewage treatment system was approved with no debate. The county will pay United Water, of New Jersey, $57.4 million per year, adjusted annually for inflation, to run three major wastewater treatment plants, 53 pumping stations and 3,000 miles of sewer pipes.

The firm, which plans to take over management by year's end, will hire about half of Nassau's 300 sewer employees. Remaining workers will be offered vacant jobs in other departments to reduce overtime.

Mangano said those moves will save a total of about $233 million over the 20-year deal.

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