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Levy: Decision is mine on granting retirement incentives

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said Wednesday state law gives him "sole authority" in deciding which county workers can qualify for state retirement incentives not lawmakers.

In an effort to block legislators from passing a broader plan next week, Levy said, "It's pretty clear the county executive has the final word. We will continue to chat with the legislature and try to work with them and have reason prevail."

Levy's stand comes after county lawmakers set special meetings for Wednesday to make workers at the county's endangered John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank eligible for incentives. Last week lawmakers killed Levy's plan.

The county executive said the incentive law states that the "chief executive officer or a comparable official," has the power to determine who is eligible for the incentive. Levy said he expects 300 to 500 workers countywide will take advantage of the incentive under his plan and the county will save $10 million to $13 million, if it refills only 20 percent of the jobs.

Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said "the legislation is a little bit fuzzy." While conceding Levy can pick who is eligible, Lindsay added, "We've been in touch with the state folks who said they have never had a situation like this and if we pass our legislation, they'll have to rule on it."

The presiding officer said he is willing to compromise, but plans to move ahead with a resolution saying it's a "no brainer" to let nursing home workers take the incentive since Levy wants to sell the nursing home to a private operator for $36 million. About 50 to 100 nursing home workers could qualify. Even if lawmakers reject the sale, Lindsay added, it will reduce the nursing home's full-time staff and permit use of more part-time workers like private nursing homes do.

Levy aides say the county executive will only agree to include nursing home workers if the county legislature approves the sale. He said allowing nursing home workers to take incentives achieves no savings because under state staffing rules all positions would be refilled.

"I don't think the legislature is going to be blackmailed into selling to put a few more people on the retirement list," Lindsay said. He also disagreed with Levy's staffing claims, saying the proposed buyer is "planning to operate . . . with a heck of a lot less people."Lindsay added Levy is acting "kind of childish" and "doesn't want to reward these people ... who have been standing in his way of closing the facility."

Levy countered Lindsay and some lawmakers are pandering to a small number of union workers. "I'd like to come together on a plan everyone is happy with," he said, "But I won't sell out the taxpayers."

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