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Long IslandSuffolk

Suffolk approves early retirement incentive

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy won legislative approval Wednesday for an early retirement plan that he had been touting as saving up to $13 million from the exit of more than 400 workers.

But before the vote, Levy's budget director Eric Naughton acknowledged to lawmakers, incentives would actually cost the county $7 million more by 2016, an estimate he recanted hours later, claiming a net $8.8 million long-term savings.

The differing forecasts arose after Presiding Officer William Lindsay, irked by recent Levy attacks on him, pointedly asked Naughton if the retirement incentives would wind up costing the county $7 million more. He answered, "That's correct."

"So there is no savings," Lindsay said. "All the media hype your boss has been generating is wrong, and I wish he'd have the guts to be honest with taxpayers of this county."

When questioned about the cost issue later, Levy said Lindsay's early retirement proposal, which was tabled, would have cost even more. Hours later, Levy aides revised their savings estimates.

That forecast, Naughton said, is an "accurate picture" of the savings, while earlier "we wanted to present something conservative that Office of Budget Review would not say is totally outlandish." Gail Vizzini, top legislative budget analyst, called the changes "disingenuous."

Levy's bill was approved after he dropped from his legislation lists of employees who would be ineligible for incentives. Now employees can apply and Levy will decide later who is eligible. Lindsay also tabled his own measure that would have made nursing home workers eligible for the incentives.

"This is good news for our budget and for the employees who can part from government in a more humane way than layoffs," said Levy later.

Legis. Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham), minority leader, said, "It took a little extra time, but it got us a cleaner solution."

The legislature tabled a second resolution which could make nursing home workers eligible for incentives if lawmakers approve the $36-million sale of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility by Aug. 17. Legislative counsel George Nolan called for a delay on the amendment until Levy's approved plan is signed and filed in Albany. It is expected to pass the Aug. 3 meeting.

While the legislature defeated Levy's early retirement proposal last month, Lindsay said he backed it Wednesday because research showed only the county executive can choose those eligible for incentives. Lindsay also said without the voluntary exit of veteran workers, there would be far more layoffs of younger, lower-paid workers.

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