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Suffolk analysts warn money for some pay raises not in budget

Suffolk legislature budget analysts are warning that County Executive Steve Bellone did not budget the $7,279,000 needed to pay for the 2017 raises in the new eight-year contract with its 260 deputy sheriffs.

The Office of Budget Review’s report on the contract, which runs from 2011 to 2018, states that the 2017 operating budget includes $4,476,378 for contract settlements, only enough to pay for deputies’ retroactive raises due this year.

In addition, legislative analysts also estimate the county will owe another $1.4 million in raises that will be deferred and paid out when deputies leave county service. Deputies as of 2020 also can ask for the money, but a payout would be at the county’s discretion. Those raises would be paid out at the deputies’ prevailing wage when they leave county service.

Despite the analysts’ findings, Dennis Cohen, Bellone’s chief deputy, said last week the county would not have to borrow to pay deputies, as it did in 2013 to pay for the $35.6 million corrections officers arbitration award.

Jennifer McNamara, Bellone’s labor relations director, testified at the legislature’s government operations committee Wednesday that money is in the budget, but she could not say where. She said she would have an answer by Tuesday when the full legislature votes on ratification.

Later, Jason Elan, a Bellone spokesman, called the pact “a favorable settlement” that has “secured millions in taxpayer savings,” but he also could not identify what budget funds will be used. “We . . . are currently reviewing our 2017 budget projections as we explore opportunities to mitigate expenses,” he said.

Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, GOP caucus leader, said he was “not surprised” by Bellone aides’ lack of specifics, but added, “Lawmakers are going to want answers” before a vote.

On the plus side, the budget review report put the overall cost of the pact at $20.7 million — $3.1 million less than the county executive projected — and a fiscal impact through 2020 of $41.5 million — $3.5 million less than Bellone’s estimates. But while salary increases in the new contract average only 2.54 percent a year, analysts warned that even with pay deferrals, those increases will now go into deputies’ salary base and the county will face paying raises totaling 18.73 percent going into the 2018 budget.

The new contract, already ratified by deputies, also includes a no-layoff provision and agreement from the union to drop its lawsuits over their right to patrol Sunrise Highway and the Long Island Expressway, work that was returned to county police after Bellone took over in 2012.

The legislature’s government operations committee approved the contract unanimouslyWednesday, but Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) opposed the deal. “We’re kicking the can down the road, giving out raises we can’t afford all because Bellone reneged on an agreement that let the deputies patrol the highways which was less costly,” he said.

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