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Thomas Barraga: Trim police pact by 2 years

Suffolk County Legis. Thomas F. Barraga, 11th District.

Suffolk County Legis. Thomas F. Barraga, 11th District. Credit: David Pokress

Suffolk Legis. Thomas Barraga proposed Tuesday that to reduce costs, the county consider shortening the eight-year police contract by two years and giving officers a small retroactive raise that would be paid out at retirement.

Barraga (R-West Islip) asked the legislature's Office of Budget Review to determine the fiscal impact of giving officers quarter- or half-percent raises for 2011 and 2012 in exchange for cutting out the last two years of the contract, which legislative budget analysts have estimated will cost $161.7 million alone. Later, he said the retroactive raises should be granted as a one-time payment, not included in the salary base, and be paid out only at retirement.

Barraga made his proposal after legislative budget analysts estimated the new contract, based on an assumption of no new hires or retirements, would cost $268.7 million, $85.6 million more than the Bellone administration's initial projection. "It seems to me the problem we face is the length of the contract and the high amount of money backloaded at the end," he said.

In the past, Barraga said, the longest arbitration settlement has been four years. He added that the union can still negotiate for more money, but the county can start fresh with new talks for 2017 and 2018.

Barraga maintained that the impact of the contract's last two years -- a $74.9 million increase in 2017 and the $86.8 million in 2018 -- would be "rather devastating" to local residents.

Another lawmaker, Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), also asked the budget analysts for a year-by-year estimate of the property tax impact for police district residents in the impending deal.

Barraga waded into the contract issue even though county lawmakers, by law, have no role in contract talks and can only ratify or turn down a pact negotiated by County Executive Steve Bellone and the union.

Since August, Bellone has proposed first a 10-year settlement, then a six-year pact and most recently an eight-year contract. The last will come before the government operations committee Thursday for a vote. If the pact gets out of committee, the full legislature could vote on it next Tuesday in Riverhead.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider saw no chance for change. "We negotiated a contract in good faith with substantial improvements than the county would get under a broken arbitration system and that is what is before the legislators." He added, "The only option to this [agreement] is to go to arbitration, which has never given less than a 3.5 percent [annual] award."

Suffolk PBA officials did not return calls for comment.

Schneider also said estimates by legislative budget analysts do not take into account the concessions in the new contract. He said there will be $9.6 million in savings over the life of the contract, based on the lower pay scale for the 75 recruits budgeted to be hired next year, and another $1.2 million in savings because new hires will pay a 15 percent share of health premiums.

He added there will be additional savings as lower-paid new officers replace higher-paid veterans, noting that police retirements average 45 a year.

"My initial impression is that he is trying to renegotiate a contract on the fly that has taken the administration and unions months and months to reach agreement," said Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), deputy presiding officer, of Barraga. He said if Barraga was serious, he should have taken his idea to both sides.

Barraga said he has not talked to either Bellone or union officials, but added, "There has to be some compromise beyond what is before us so far."

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