With Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy tethering the hiring of a new police class to the sale of the county's nursing home, Democratic legislators Wednesday pushed back, saying the two matters should be considered separately.

Legis. Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon), whose support for the plan Levy touted in a news release, said Levy should hire police officers because there is money for it in the budget. Last year, the legislature raised police district property taxes 3 percent to pay for these officers.

"We should hire the police because we put them in the budget," D'Amaro said. "We provided for the hiring of the police in the operating budget and as a result of doing that, they should be hired."

And Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who opposes a nursing home sale, said it is "not appropriate" to tie the two issues together. "It's taking advantage of the least fortunate and using them as pawns," she said.

Republicans backed Levy, who predicted between 10 and 13 of the 18 legislators will ultimately back selling the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility.

"We need to hire more police officers, we need to bolster our public safety ranks," said Minority Leader Daniel Losquadro (R-Shoreham). "How do we do that? It has to be a zero-sum game. You have to save one place in order to do another."

Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) went one step further: He said the county should sell the nursing home and forgo adding another police class.

"I don't think we need them," Barraga said. "We have 70 [that started last month], that's enough as far as I'm concerned. I don't think we should go out and put on another 80 officers."

Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), who has engaged in a news release sparring match with Levy over the past two days, said tying more cops to a nursing home sale will backfire.

"If something looks like blackmail, it's not going to go over well with legislators," Cooper said. "By Levy tying together two totally unrelated issues, I think it will end up being counterproductive for him."

Levy said lawmakers hesitant about selling the nursing home should either support doing so or present other options to fill an estimated $150-million budget gap for 2011. "They don't have to support the nursing home option, but they have an obligation to come up with something of equal value in its place and they've failed to do so," Levy said.

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