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Editorial: Suffolk cop contract's got loose ends

Suffolk County Executive, Steve Bellone, announces that Suffolk

Suffolk County Executive, Steve Bellone, announces that Suffolk County police will resume patrols on the LIE and Sunrise Highway in September, during a press conference at his office in Hauppauge. PBA president Noel DiGerolamo, looks on. (Aug. 2, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

Thursday's meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature may deal with as much as $100 million in crucial budget items. The number is uncertain because of eleventh-hour talks that complicated voting on a Police Benevolent Association contract, which could save the county $43.7 million in 2013.

Though County Executive Steve Bellone got credit for avoiding arbitration and negotiating a contract at all -- the first between the county and the PBA in two decades -- the last-minute rush does not make him look good now.

At a special budget committee meeting scheduled for Wednesday at 5 p.m., the legislature's budget review staff was to have analyzed the contract, whose terms and language have been evolving since it was announced Aug. 2. But the meeting was canceled, mostly because the budget analysis is still not complete. That meeting now may happen during the day Thursday, possibly followed by a vote.

Problems aside, the agreement does change the pernicious cycle of arbitrated contracts, which usually have been bad for taxpayers.

The key item for 2013 is that it would avert a crushing $43.7 million in retroactive salary increases for 2011 and 2012 that an arbitrator could have awarded. Unfortunately, Bellone rushed this through, facing a deadline to submit his budget this month. He might have to submit it without PBA certainty, if the contract isn't approved . It should have gotten done sooner, but in the end, it has to be done right.

Meanwhile, there's no reason for legislators not to vote for Bellone's proposed sale of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. That has been well vetted, and it's worth $33 million in the 2013 budget, between the $23-million sale price and the avoided operating losses. The legislature can also bring in another $20 million by approving the sale of surplus county land in Yaphank.

These steps are not wildly popular, but rejecting them would mean even more unpopular actions, such as further layoffs. So the legislature has little choice but to look closely, work late, gulp hard and vote yea.