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Judge upholds Suffolk pact for sheriff patrols of LIE, Sunrise

The Bellone administration has said the $4 million

The Bellone administration has said the $4 million owed to deputy sheriffs was not budgeted to be paid this year because it was the subject of ongoing litigation. Deputies then sue the county in 2012 over the return of patrol of the highways to the police department. Credit: Christopher Sabella. Pictured: Highway Patrol officers conduct a traffic stop on the LIE in 2013.

A State Supreme Court justice has upheld a 2011 agreement meant to keep Suffolk County deputy sheriffs patrolling the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway, and has ordered the issue to binding arbitration for final resolution.

In a seven-page ruling, Justice Peter Mayer called it a "valid agreement," largely because the county had used $4 million in savings from the pact in the 2012 and 2013 budgets, while claiming the agreement was invalid. Mayer ordered arbitration because the original agreement called for the process in the event of disputes.

"We're very pleased. We think the judge made the right decision," said John Becker, president of the 260-member deputy sheriffs union. Becker expressed confidence that the ruling ultimately could return deputies to highway patrols, although he said he was "willing to negotiate the issue" with the county.

Justin Meyers, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, said the county will appeal Mayer's ruling, issued Feb. 27. County police will continue to patrol the highways because under state law an appeal by the county stops the decision from taking effect until appeals are exhausted.

Suffolk Police Benevolent Association president Noel DeGerolamo, a defendant in the case, said he was "not surprised" by the outcome.

"I knew there was a possibility of the decision going either way, but we'll exercise every right under the law, and I'm confident that the county will do the same," DeGerolamo said.

The ruling is the latest twist in a long battle that began in 2008 when then-County Executive Steve Levy ordered lower-paid deputies to take over patrols of the expressway and Sunrise Highway from the police highway patrol as a cost-saving measure.

Just before leaving office, Levy in 2011 made the memorandum of agreement with the deputies union, in which the county promised to protect all existing deputy job functions -- including highway patrols -- through 2017. In return, the union agreed to defer $4 million of $8 million in retroactive pay increases until 2015.

Bellone, who won election in 2011 with support of the police union, signed a new contract with the police union in September 2012 that returned highway patrol work to them. The sheriff's deputies then sued to enforce their earlier agreement.

County attorneys said the deputies' agreement was invalid because the Suffolk Legislature never ratified it.

However, Mayer ruled that by never returning the deal's savings to the union, "the county's conduct constituted a ratification and de facto approval of the 2011 MOA."

In another matter, Meyers said the administration will allow Sheriff Vincent DeMarco to fill 18 budgeted positions to promote supervisors and investigators. The decision came after DeMarco and Bellone met Friday. Meyers said DeMarco "made the case" hirings would curtail overtime. Meyers said the administration will monitor overtime.

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