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Suffolk police deal restores raises

A police cruiser outside of the Suffolk County

A police cruiser outside of the Suffolk County Third Precinct in Bay Shore. (March 2, 2010) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's latest -- and likely final -- proposed deal with the Police Benevolent Association restores an additional two years of guaranteed raises for current officers, increases that he had initially removed in the name of "flexibility."

The pact, according to a fiscal impact statement released , would produce more than $43 million in immediate savings, but -- in total -- still promises existing officers $203 million in pay raises through 2018.

The executive office's long-awaited report comes as lawmakers start vetting the eight-year contract for possible approval by mid-October. After numerous revisions, Bellone and the PBA have agreed on regular raises for veteran officers from next June through the deal's 2018 end, even as future hires will earn less and pay part of their health care costs.

Originally, the pact (which includes no retroactive increases for 2011 and 2012) promised raises from 2013 through 2020. That would have brought top-step veterans' annual salaries, in many cases, above $200,000.

Responding to critics, Bellone shortened the deal, limiting guaranteed raises through 2016 by making the other two years subject to negotiation. But the PBA, in agreeing to the county's right to return some functions to civilians that recently had been assigned to sworn officers, got the pay raise guarantee extended back through 2018.

"Here's the trade-off," said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider, to those who say current officers are getting too good a deal. "We're getting zeros from retro pay and, in the long run, making the police force more affordable. This is something, at a minimum, you could have never gotten from arbitration."

PBA president Noel DiGerolamo said he didn't anticipate more changes to the deal, which he hopes to bring to his members for ratification this month.

"We're comfortable with it because it continues to guarantee all our current employees the rights and benefits they're accustomed to," he said. "And the new employees, with a longer pay scale, are going to return significant savings to the county, which is important given the fiscal situation we're faced with."

Legislators aren't expected to receive the executive's fiscal analysis until Friday morning.

By getting officers to waive retroactive pay raises, the contract would save Suffolk $43.7 million in 2013, when officials already project a deficit of more than $200 million, according to the financial assessment. That and the creation of a new compensation system for future hires (freezing their starting pay, adding more steps and requiring the 15 percent health care contributions) are what Bellone most frequently touts.

The executive budget office also noted the significance of those immediate cost-saving items, but still predicted that the increases for current officers, beginning in June 2013, could cost Suffolk $203.2 million through 2018, less whatever savings are achieved through the concessions.

Schneider noted that the figure assumes a totally static workforce, and that arbitration would have likely given officers similar raises, anyway.

Eventually, he added, the administration foresees a far more affordable police force, as veteran officers still benefiting from the current wage scale (and lack of health care buy-ins) are replaced by new hires. A rookie officer hired in 2013 under the new system will make $74,000 in base pay by 2018, compared with $139,000 under existing conditions, Schneider said.

The fiscal analysis said hiring 80 officers annually over the next five years, under that new scale, would save Suffolk about $45 million compared with the cost had they been compensated like current officers.

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