A gun amendment, which will cost $115,000 and supply 200...

A gun amendment, which will cost $115,000 and supply 200 correction officers with handguns while off duty, was sponsored by Legis. Kate M. Browning, seen here in 2013, and approved unanimously Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. Credit: Ed Betz

The Suffolk County Legislature added about $1.5 million to County Executive Steve Bellone's proposed $2.89 billion budget Wednesday, including a last-minute amendment to provide 200 correction officers with handguns while off duty.

The lawmakers also approved a multipronged resolution that would increase bus fares by 25 cents, to $2.25 for all regular rides, add health positions considered critical and raise sales tax revenue estimates by $9.6 million.

Bellone, a Democrat who has issued no budget vetoes in two years, is expected to decide whether to veto any budget changes by the legislature's Nov. 18 meeting.

The resolutions were approved 15-3. Republican Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. unsuccessfully sought a separate vote to lower the sales-tax growth forecast for next year from 4.875 percent to 4.25 percent. Legislative analysts said reducing the estimates would have forced lawmakers to come up with about $11 million in cuts to make up for both the lost revenue and extra budget spending for which some of sales tax money was earmarked. Joining Kennedy were two other GOP lawmakers, Tom Cilmi of Bay Shore and Robert Trotta of Fort Salonga.

The gun amendment, which will cost $115,000 and supply the correction officers with Glock 9-mm pistols to carry off-duty, was sponsored by Legis. Kate M. Browning (WF-Shirley) and approved unanimously. A half-hour debate included questions by a Bellone aide about potential ramifications of the policy.

The bulk of the county's more than 800 correction officers, except those working in certain posts, are not issued guns inside the county jail to avoid the chance of a prisoner disarming them. However, union officials appealed to lawmakers, saying that the officers, who are peace officers trained in firearms, deal with gangs and hardened criminals and face potential threats from prisoners after their release.

Vito Dagnello, president of the Suffolk County Correction Officers Association, said one member recently ran into a former inmate at a church function and later that night his wife got a threatening call, forcing the department to provide round-the-clock security at their home.

"Correction officers deal with society's castoffs and we have to deal with them 24/7 in the jail," Dagnello said. "And now we have to see them in the streets."

Legis. Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) said he supported the move because "they are just as much at risk as police officers, hanging around with prisoners all day long."

Michael Sharkey, the Suffolk sheriff's chief of staff, said the department did not request funding for the weapons in its budget, but Sheriff Vincent DeMarco supports the amendment. He said it has not been determined which officers will get the weapons.

"This is a start," Dagnello said. "We hope all correction officers eventually will be issued 9-mm Glocks."

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