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Suffolk approves 8-year police contract

Officers during a graduation ceremony from the police

Officers during a graduation ceremony from the police academy in Brentwood. (June 10, 2011) Credit: Ed Betz

The Suffolk County Legislature approved without debate a new contract with Suffolk police officers that will save $43 million up front but cost a total of $268.7 million over 8 years.

Lawmakers also approved a pact with all county unions Tuesday that will require new hires for the first time to pay a share of health premiums.

Both resolutions passed unanimously.

The contract with the Police Benevolent Association, the largest police union, becomes the union's first negotiated agreement with the county in more than two decades. The rest had to go to binding arbitration.

"This agreement, short of eliminating the broken arbitration system, represents the best possible way to protect taxpayers over the long-term by making new cops more affordable," Bellone said Tuesday.

Some expressed concern about the cost of the pact.

"This is going to be extremely expensive," said Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip). "But at least we're getting something back," in concessions.

Passage of the PBA contract comes as the county struggles with a multimillion-dollar budget deficit. The pact required lengthy negotiations between the union and the administration, and cost estimates fluctuated. Last week, legislative budget analysts found that the agreement will cost $268.7 million, $85.6 more than Bellone had estimated.

The PBA contract sets up a dual-pay system in which officers at the top salary steps -- 85 percent of the force -- will see their base annual pay rise from $108,000 to $139,000, not including overtime, holiday pay, and night differential.

The administration says the pact also will save the county $43 million by foregoing retroactive pay raises for 2011 and 2012. Each new officer will save the county $128,000 in pay over the life of the contract, officials said.

Even with savings from retirements and lower-cost new hires, legislative budget analysts said annual property tax hikes likely will be needed.

The deal also calls for placing patrol duties on the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway back in the hands of county police. A deal struck last year with former County Executive Steve Levy put deputy sheriffs in charge of highway patrols through 2017.

Anthony Prudenti, president of there 260-member deputy sheriffs union, said his group would "fully litigate" the issue before the Public Employees Relations Board and in court if necessary, to preserve deputies' patrols. "It's not that we're against their agreement, it's that we're against this provision," he said.

By making the switch back to police patrols, the county must give deputies $4 million in pay raises that they had deferred.

The health insurance deal with all county unions requires newly hired employees to pay 15 percent of health premiums, and requires members to come up with $17 million in annual recurring savings, primarily in prescription drug costs. Current employees will be exempt.

With Laura Figueroa

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