An administrative law judge has ruled Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy was within his right two years ago to assign deputy sheriffs to patrol the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway, instead of Suffolk County police officers, according to county officials.

In a ruling last week, Administrative Law Judge Philip L. Maier dismissed all charges filed with the New York State Public Employment Relations Board by the Police Benevolent Association and the Superior Officers Association, saying Levy's September 2008 executive decision was valid.

Levy, who came under fire from the police unions, hailed the Aug. 12 decision Wednesday as a "victory for the taxpayers."

Union officials could not be reached for comment last night.

"Shifting the sheriffs to patrol our state roads helped me submit a tax freeze budget in 2009 and 2010, and this decision upholding that move will help me freeze taxes next year," Levy said in a statement.

Seeking cost-cutting reforms, Levy removed Suffolk police from the two state-owned highways after talks with state officials failed to produce funding to leave Suffolk officers there or to have State Police patrol the roads. He decided to use the deputy sheriffs, who earn less than Suffolk police officers. Levy said Wednesday the move so far has yielded $20 million in savings.

The unions filed a charge before PERB within days of Levy's decision because they believed Levy had violated state law by unilaterally disbanding the highway patrol division, a move that reduced officers' overtime and seniority.

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco said the decision allows him to make long-term plans for patrolling the roads.

"It wasn't my decision to pull the Suffolk County police off the highways - my first priority was public safety," he said. "I think the public is well served with the deputy sheriffs on the LIE and Sunrise Highway."

William Lindsay, the county legislature's presiding officer, said the decision had caused a rift. "I'm saddened that the whole thing started in the first place because it pit one group of workers against another," he said. "But having said that, it isn't something the legislature has any standing in."

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