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Suffolk eyes property tax rise to pay for cops

The Suffolk Legislature will vote Wednesday on a proposed 3 percent increase in police district property taxes for Suffolk's five western towns to hire 200 officers next year to replenish forces now at their lowest level in 16 years.

The multipronged resolution amending County Executive Steve Levy's $2.64-billion budget calls for hiring a class of 100 officers in March and another 100 in October costing about $10.6 million, nearly half of what it will cost to fund those new officers in 2011.

Legislative officials said the new hirings will cost the average western Suffolk homeowner about $30 more next year on a $1,000 police tax bill. The county general property tax for the average homeowner remains at less than $100.

Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) called the budget process "excruciating" in the wake of a recession, but said the new police hiring was crucial.

"I don't think we made that many changes and the changes that were made were needed," Lindsay said. "It's totally unrealistic not to have more police - crime is really a problem and there's not enough cops."

The resolution, developed by a bipartisan budget committee, also hires 40 extra correction officers over the 40 Levy budgeted in preparation for opening a new county jail in 2011. It lowers Levy's 2010 sales tax growth estimate from 5 to 4 percent.

Levy's response was muted and did not address the new police hiring. "We will reserve judgment on the legislature's budget because, unfortunately no one has been able to see it," said Levy through a spokesman. "We again call on the legislature to live by the law that requires that the public see the details 72 hours before the vote."

Up to now, Levy and Police Commissioner Richard Dormer have maintained that no new officers are needed because redeployments - such as shifting highway patrol to deputy sheriffs - have increased the number of officers on the street.

But backers say police staffing has fallen to 2,432, the lowest number of officers since December 1993. No new hiring has taken place in the past two years and budget analysts had estimated without replacements, the ranks could shrink to 2,363 with 70 additional retirements next year.

"I don't think we can go any further," said Legis. Daniel Losquadro (R-Shoreham), Without new classes, he added, "the county executive runs the risk of putting county residents in jeopardy because we don't have enough officers to cover the land mass we have."

Lawmakers will also vote on a dozen stand-alone resolutions, including a $1 million proposal from Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood) to keep the Central Islip health center from merging with the Brentwood clinic.

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