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Lawmakers seek Suffolk police pact details

A file photo of Suffolk County Executive Steve

A file photo of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. (April 18, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Suffolk lawmakers are waiting to independently assess County Executive Steve Bellone's 3-week-old forecast that his tentative contract with the police officers union would save "hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars."

As some critics speculate that the 8-year agreement with the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association may really be a long-term negative on the county budget, Bellone's office has yet to provide the legislature with copies or to release a fiscal analysis.

Terms Bellone has touted, such as freezing new officers' starting pay and requiring health care contributions, must be considered alongside some other details that haven't been disclosed, such as those relating to existing officers' compensation, the lawmakers say.

"The devil is in the details, and we still haven't seen the details," said Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Central Islip).

Current police officers would receive no retroactive pay raises for 2011 or 2012, saving Suffolk $30 million, but questions remain as to exactly how high veteran officers' salaries can grow, taking into account future step and base pay increases, longevity pay hikes and new boosts for education.

Veteran officers' compensation would have maxed out at $201,000 a year in 2020 under the initial deal proposed early this month but, under the revised plan announced last week, they would be paid as much as $168,000 by the end of 2016, county officials have said.

Bellone has said the revised deal -- which goes through 2018 and reopens the pay raise issue after 2016 -- would be up for legislative vote on Sept. 13, allowing its savings to be put in his 2013 budget proposal. But his aides said Monday a delay to Oct. 9 was possible as final contract language was still being determined.

"We're doing everything to move this along, but it's more important to get it done right than get it done quickly," said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider. "No one's asking anyone to rush to judgment."

Legis. Kate M. Browning (WF-Shirley), who chairs the public safety committee, said she's encouraged that the PBA deal led all unions to revise their health plan to find $17 million in annual savings, but she wouldn't commit to a position without reading the contract.

"I've got an email from someone asking me not to support it, but how does he know what's in the agreement if I don't?" she asked. "I really don't have all the information at this point."

Schneider and other contract supporters said taxpayers benefit more from a negotiated agreement than if Suffolk had gone to arbitration with the PBA.

Union officials have already begun a telephone survey to gauge public opinion and to connect supportive callers to legislators.

"The reports I've received are very reassuring," said PBA president Noel DiGerolamo.

But Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), who said his office has received dozens of survey callers, found "a majority we got were asking to us to vote no."

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