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Suffolk guard privatization plan questioned

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (April 18, 2012)

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (April 18, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Some Suffolk lawmakers are worried about County Executive Steve Bellone's plan to privatize social services security guards, saying they know little about the firm that will soon replace unionized workers.

Without legislative action, 21 guards at five county social service buildings will be let go June 30. Dreamland Security, the Bronx company that watches Suffolk's nursing home and a health center, will take on the social service centers -- but only through the end of August, when its existing contract expires.

The county expects bids on a new security contract to be returned this week. But at Monday's human services committee meeting, legislators' focused on the interim solution. Some of them expressed concern over whether the Dreamland guards were equipped to handle the sometimes higher level of turmoil at the centers.

"I don't know anything about their track record and that's a little disconcerting to me," Legis. Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) said of Dreamland.

Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass acknowledged he wasn't closely involved with the plan for the company to replace his guards. Bellone cut them as he saved 126 other "mission-critical" social service jobs from an inherited layoff list.

"We don't know as much as we'd like on Dreamland," Blass said, adding the company will tour the social services centers within the next two weeks.

Dreamland did not respond to a request for comment, but Bellone aides said a county official who has dealt with the firm in its capacity watching health department buildings would answer lawmakers' questions Tuesday.

Budget and finance committee members will consider a bill Tuesday morning from Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) that restores the 21 social services guards through 2012. If passed, the measure goes to the full legislature next Tuesday.

Supporters of county guards say their lower-paid replacements won't have the same stake or experience in protecting volatile social services centers serving the homeless and temporary-assistance applicants. Bellone's office projects savings of about $600,000 a year with a private firm, as Suffolk faces a $530 million deficit through 2013.

"From our position, it's a fiscal issue," said Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).

But Legis. Edward P. Romaine (R-Center Moriches) questioned whether the savings will be that high, since the estimate is based on the contract rate Dreamland deemed too low to extend. And Legis. Kate M. Browning (WF-Shirley), who voted with Democrats on layoff revisions, said she won't support privatization because guards have no opportunity to be rehired if county finances change, unlike others whose jobs are being eliminated.

"I don't think it's a good idea," she said. "There's a lot of answers we don't have."

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