Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 03 June 2011 00:00
Reverberations are still being felt from the decision of the Muttontown Village Board to “NOT” sign on for service with the Old Brookville Police Department which went from servicing seven villages to six as a result.Muttontown Mayor Julianne Wesley Beckerman has announced to village residents that her new police force is a reality. She said in a May 14 letter to Muttontown residents, “In this historic time for the Village of Muttontown, I believe all residents should have an opportunity to bear witness as our new police officers are sworn in. Please join your board of trustees and me on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hoffman Center for a ceremony to officially welcome our new Muttontown police officers.
“During this evening there will be an opportunity for you to meet and speak with the individual officers. I have no doubt their enthusiasm, strength of character, and experience will impress you as much as they have me,” she wrote.
Mayor Beckerman said at that time that three of the villages marked cars had arrived and been equipped “with the latest in law enforcement technology. Another two marked vehicles are on order and an unmarked car is set to be equipped in the coming week. I am pleased to tell you that your new police officers have been selected, fitted for their uniforms, and will be onsite over the next two weeks for orientation.”
She told residents, as of June 1, to dial 911 in case of an emergency. In non-emergency times she advised them to call the Muttontown Police at Village Hall at 364-3950. Calls will be answered at that number or forwarded to one of the police officers on duty. She added Chief McHale’s number (551-9865), to use in case they had any special concerns.
Mayor Beckerman added that all the start-up expenditures were completed without an increase in the village budget. She added that although this year’s budget ($4,034,340) is less than last year’s budget ($4,099,247), the decline in state-aid and other revenue sources will, “cause a slight increase in tax bills for the coming fiscal year.”
While the Muttontown mayor has stated things will cost less, there is still the issue of a contract with the PBA which has another year to run. Currently there are two law suits in the courts regarding the OBPD, one is fighting restructuring and the other the funding for the last year of the police contract which ends next year. Muttontown may have to pay for the services of the OBPD in spite of having their own force currently.
At issue, said Upper Brookville Police Commissioner Michael Schwerin was that at first, “The PBA said they would work with the villages and understood the need for restructuring the department and accept layoffs and give backs to get on a longstanding footing.”
In a May 9 letter to residents UB Mayor Terry Thielen said, “The Village of Upper Brookville reached an agreement with Old Brookville, Brookville, Matinecock, Mill Neck and Cove Neck to continue to provide police protection services for our residents through the Old Brookville Police Department (OBPD). We six villages have agreed to terms in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which will support the OBPD for another year beginning June 1, 2011.”
Mayor Thielen added, “Rightsizing the OBPD to serve six rather than seven communities will not be an easy task. However, we are glad to have found common ground, and working together, we are optimistic that we can restructure the Department to make it sustainable far into the future.”
That was the problem, said Mr. Schwerin – while the villages believed there was a MOU, the union felt it had to fight for its members and is suing to prevent any reduction/restructuring in direct contradiction to what they were saying before, in spite of the fact that the OBPD lost 29 percent of its “customers”.
Mr. Schwerin said, “After $3 million in funding has vanished, it is irresponsible that the current staffing is still needed. There is not a need to maintain the force and we have the fiscal responsibility to take action and scale down the cost.”
While the commissioners created a budget, the PBA created their own budget. Mr. Schwerin said, “They are only raiding the balance sheet – we have funds set aside for significant funding for termination pay. They propose those funds be used for current obligations.”
A big financial burden he said is “the very dramatic retirement health benefits” which has been calculated by an outside expert, as $28 million the seven villages have to raise for that obligation.
He said, “It is several times larger than the termination amount and none of that has been funded and we are trying to set aside funds for longtime health benefits. The union wants us to spend what we have now, and pay the bill later and that means higher taxes to residents.”
Mr. Schwerin said the villages are trying to do the responsible thing in terms of future obligations. “The PBA wants to use those monies to subsidize the operations budget for a force that needs to be smaller.”
Mr. Schwerin said of the PBA, “To say to the press the union is willing to take steps to restructure and then to sue us to prevent that restructuring is outrageous.”
For the PBA side, Chris Sweeney, union president said, “The OBPD gave the board of commissioners a budget that called for no layoffs and they turned that down. The administrators here gave a minimal increase and to keep the department down through attrition and an austerity budget.”
Mr. Schwerin said of the concept, “It doesn’t do it quick enough and with a force much too large for much too long.”
He said, “The only way that budget works is to use reserve funds. If we did that, taxes would go up a whole lot later. Those reserves have to be funded. They are not acknowledging the budget works only with taking money from reserves and they are not admitting it to the residents.” [The residents are under the impression the PBA budget will only cost them each about $100 more but there will be a big bill coming up in the future.]
Mr. Scherwin asked, “How can you lose $3.5 million and have nothing change and only affect residents by $100. The $3 million has to come from someplace.” He added, “The department must shrink and the PBA has to work with us to accept certain changes.”
He said: you do the math. [If a job takes 50 people to do and the job is cut by 26 percent – do you still need 50 people to do it?]
But, he said, dealing with a union entity makes negotiations even harder. In civil service, those workers with shorter tenure are the ones who go first. Those are where the salaries are lowest. Therefore you need to get rid of more of them to make up the needed savings.
Another issue the villages have been facing is the need for a larger headquarters building. Mr. Schwerin said that is no longer necessary. “It looked too small with seven villages, now we no longer have seven and with six, we decided to shelve the idea of the project. We’re going to be a much smaller force.”
Another area of contention is that the PBA contract has one more year to run, and a law suit questions whether Muttontown has to contribute for that coming year. “We’ll see what the court says,” Mr. Schwerin said.
As far as contracts, Mr. Schwerin said, “The PBA contract has no language that officers cannot be laid off. The NCPD has a no lay off clause.”
Mr. Schwerin said, “The village police department is a function of the villages. The PD contracts with the PBA for their officers. The villages have an agreement to manage the department. The police force has a contract with the PBA and that is the contract that does not say officers have jobs for life.”
In the article in the May 26 issue of the Enterprise Pilot, PBA President Chris Sweeney commented on the loss of OBPD detectives and said it would be a hardship since the NCPD is understaffed and overworked. Mr. Schwerin said, “Those considerations are still under discussions. All Nassau County residents pay the Headquarters Tax which funds the detectives. Nassau County is obligated to provide detectives.”
Currently, the villages have retained legal counsel with experience in labor relations to find a solution, according to Mayor Theilen’s May 17 letters to Upper Brookville residents.