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An enormous burden on Long Islanders

LI's billion-dollar termination pay liability for police is

LI's billion-dollar termination pay liability for police is unfair. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/istock

A recent Newsday investigation added another financial worry to the staggering deficit numbers confronting Long Island municipalities as they struggle to deal with the monetary crisis caused by the pandemic.

Nassau and Suffolk each has at least $500 million in termination pay liability for public workers, mostly for police officers, who individually will be paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars for unused sick and vacation days when they retire. Towns and villages that have their own police departments also face these enormous expenses.

Newsday reported that Long Island residents have a per-capita termination pay burden that’s four times the average in the rest of the state. And it’s for no good reason.

Generous contract provisions that grant officers more than 70 paid days off per year including sick time do nothing to make residents safer, yet both Nassau and Suffolk and most local forces on the Island include such terms. That means the average cop salary before overtime of $133,063 in the Suffolk County Police Department and $121,659 in the Nassau County Police Department is premised on an average workweek of just under 25 hours.

But most experienced cops on Long Island work more hours than that, and earn more than that. They earn more because of overtime, and work more because of both overtime and the practice of banking time off rather than taking it. And they don’t have to save many days off to garner termination checks that now average over $250,000 for patrol officers and can be as much as $500,000 for higher ranks.

Taking 50 paid days off a year (that’s 2 ½ months) and banking 20 other days allows an officer to save enough time over a career to hit the maximum of two years of salary in termination pay in Nassau and one year and nine months in Suffolk.

And when that time is paid, it’s calculated at the officer’s final pay rate, not what he or she was earning when it was banked.

New York City officers, by comparison, get a maximum of three months termination pay and can’t bank sick time. And their total annual pay lags what Long Island’s officers earn by 75%, on average.

Long Island taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay, but for decades state law that protects cop contracts in return for banning strikes, and a political system that has elected officials terrified of police unions have combined to create such out-of-control pay and perk combinations.

Now, though, municipalities are broke, and a recent federal appeals court decision supporting the pay freeze Nassau County instituted several years ago implies that, contracts or not, municipalities that can’t pay don’t have to pay, particularly if they have control boards. And those without control boards may increasingly seek bankruptcy, another contract crusher.

Most Long Islanders don’t begrudge cops a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, but 70 paid days off a year and huge bonuses upon retirement aren’t fair.

That’s why practically no community in the nation, outside of Long Island, provides such extraordinary packages.

— The editorial board