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Tax cost of Suffolk police deal reviewed

The proposed Suffolk police contract -- if paid for solely through property taxes -- would raise taxes an average 9 percent a year for western county residents from 2014 to 2018, according to legislative budget analysts providing the information to a county lawmaker.

But after providing the numbers in an email at the request of a county legislator, the analysts backtracked, saying the scenario -- which also envisioned 3.5 percent annual tax hikes for those on the East End -- was unlikely because it did not include long-term savings in the contract.

Jon Schneider, a top aide to County Executive Steve Bellone, agreed, calling the latest projections "illegitimate." He said they do not "reflect reality because Bellone would never pierce the state's 2 percent property-tax cap."

The county legislature's office of budget review provided the calculation in response to a request from Legis. Jay H. Schneiderman (I-Montauk) to detail the deal's property-tax impact following their report earlier in the week that the police contract would cost $268.7 million, $85.6 million more than the Bellone administration had estimated.

But Gail Vizzini, director of budget review, distanced herself from the latest projection, saying that kind of tax increase is unlikely to occur.

"That was a very narrow scenario," she said.

Vizzini added, "The most likely outcome is that the property tax increase would be offset by sales tax, the reduced cost of new hires, savings from retirements and other cost restraints."

Robert Lipp, her deputy director, made a ballpark estimate that savings could reduce the overall cost of the contract by 36 percent, or $96.7 million. His estimate was based on 45 police retirements and 80 new hires each year.

However, Schneiderman, who is undecided on how he will vote on the contract, said the new data is crucial "because whatever we decide we have to understand the full consequences of our decision."

The email assumes Bellone's proposed 2.6 percent police district property-tax increase for 2013 will be enacted, and projects increases of 2.6 percent in 2014, 5.6 percent in 2015, 11.5 percent in 2016, 12.4 percent in 2017 and 12.8 percent in 2018.

The general fund property-tax increases would amount to 0.9 percent in 2014, 2 percent in 2015, 4.2 percent in 2015, 4.9 percent in 2017 and 5.4 percent in 2018.

The projections came to light late Wednesday as the contract, which has already undergone repeated revisions, faces a vote Thursday in a government operations committee meeting.

Bellone and aides have maintained the contract is a far better deal than if the county entered binding arbitration.

A related deal with all county unions, also up for a vote, will produce $17 million in annual prescription savings and require all new hires to pay 15 percent of health premiums. Bellone aide Schneider said there has been no past Suffolk arbitration in which awards have been below 3.5 percent, and such an award would cost $100 million more than the pending deal.

He added that if the union went to arbitration, it would likely mean "a massive retroactive payment" for 2011, 2012 and 2013, totaling nearly $55 million, to be paid in 2014, the year by which Bellone hoped the county's budget hole would be closed.

Saying it is unrealistic to expect the union will get no raise, Schneider said, "Just to match this contract, raises would have to be limited to 2.5 percent and that would not give you the affordable officers you get under this contract."

Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), deputy presiding officer, said the contract is expected to pass and he does not expect the tax data to have much impact with lawmakers. "This doesn't change the dynamic," he said. "We are going to manage the budget, be prudent and stay within the cap."

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