11/01/10 12:02am
11/01/2010 12:02 AM

Riverhead’s Police Benevolent Association, the union representing 70 town police officers and detectives, has agreed to a lag payroll that eliminates about $230,000 from the town’s proposed 2011 budget.

Supervisor Sean Walter asked all town bargaining units to agree to a pay cut or a lag payroll, in which employees defer a portion of their salary until retirement.

The PBA agreed to accept pay for 78.4 hours of an 80-hour pay period, with the remainder due when they retire, according to PBA president Dixon Palmer.

The Superior Officers Association, which represents the 12 police sergeants or lieutenants, also has been asked to vote on a lag payroll. The results of that vote are not yet known.

The town’s $49.9 million tentative budget calls for a 4.3 percent town tax rate hike and a 1.5 percent spending reduction.

Curtailing police overtime will be another key to the success of the 2011 budget. Mr. Walter’s budget calls for $600,000 in police overtime in 2011. Since 2003, the town’s actual expenditures for police overtime have never been lower than $720,000.

Mr. Walter acknowledged that it will be difficult to keep these costs down, and said in a recent interview that he’s considering appointing an “overtime czar” in the police department.

Mr. Palmer said it’s difficult to reduce police overtime costs because officers often can’t leave when their shift is over if they are investigating certain kinds of cases.

The Civil Service Employees Association, which represents most non-police employees of the town, has refused to take either a pay cut or a lag payroll, and as a result, Mr. Walter has proposed cutting six full time CSEA positions and seven part-timers in his budget.

The Town Board last Thursday discussed the possibility of restoring several of those full-time positions, with the full-time fire marshal position sparking in the most debate. Mr. Walter proposed cutting one of the town’s three full-time fire marshals.

At the Oct. 19 Town Board meeting, volunteer firefighters packed the meeting, demanding the Town Board restore the fire marshal position held by Craig Zitek. They said cutting back on inspections puts firefighters in harm’s way when they enter an unsafe building to fight a fire.

Assistant town engineer Kerri Fetten tried to convince the board to restore Mr. Zitek’s position last Thursday. She said there are new state regulations requiring additional inspections and that Mr. Zitek had been responsible for 207 inspections this year. The town will not meet the $80,000 projected for inspection fee revenues in Mr. Walter’s budget without the third fire marshal, Ms. Fetten said.

Councilman Jim Wooten was most vocal against eliminating the fire marshal position. He also said he opposed eliminating one of the two animal control officers, as Mr. Walter has proposed.

“When it comes to public safety, I think there’s other ways we can cut,” Mr. Wooten said.

Councilman John Dunleavy at one point said he opposed cutting any positions in the budget.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the fees the town charges for inspections are much lower than what other towns charge, and she suggested raising them.

“We can’t just say we’re going to increase fees,” Mr. Walter said.

The supervisor said Suffolk County will do inspections for all of the schools within the town, relieving the town of having to have its fire marshals do those inspections.

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This post was originally published Oct. 25

10/31/10 8:32pm
10/31/2010 8:32 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO Riverhead fire chief Nick Luparella and other firefighters urged the town to avoid cutting a fire marshal position Tuesday night.

Members of the Riverhead and neighboring fire departments turned out in force Tuesday night to urge the Riverhead Town Board not to eliminate a fire marshal position, as proposed in Supervisor Sean Walter’s tentative 2011 town budget.

Several of the six other full-time employees whose positions are slated to be cut also spoke in an attempt to save their jobs.

As with previous meetings, town Civil Service Employees Association members also showed, wearing red shirts and protesting any layoffs.

The firefighters showed up in uniform at Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting and even parked several fire trucks outside Town Hall with their light flashing to protest the proposed elimination of town fire marshal Craig Zitek’s position. Riverhead Fire Chief Nick Luparella and others pointed out that by checking that sprinklers work, pathways are clear and buildings meet codes, fire marshals often ensure that firefighters don’t get trapped in burning buildings.

“Public safety is not the area to be cutting,” Mr. Luparella told the Town Board.

Animal Control Officer Sean McCabe, site plan reviewer Theresa Masin, Juvenile Aid Bureau secretary Cheryl Behr, Community Development department program technician Liz Plouff and Mr. Zitek also made their cases as to why they believed their jobs should not be cut, as the supervisor has proposed.

Mr. McCabe noted taht he is one of only two Animal Control Officers in the town. As for Ms. Masin, she said town officials had pledged to streamline the review process when they took office, and that eliminating a planning position will do the opposite. She said applications she has reviewed that have been approved also generated about $150,000 in fees for the town. Ms. Plouff said she has been responsible for obtaining and managing grant money for the town, while Ms. Behr said her position also is vital to maintaining grants obtained by the JAB.

Councilman John Dunleavy and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio both publicly stated support for restoring the fire marshal position.

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This post was originally published Oct. 20, 2010

10/06/10 2:38pm
10/06/2010 2:38 PM

A spending decrease and a modest tax hike increase. A workforce reduction. The possibility of union concessions such as a lag payroll. Realistic revenue projections. The cutting of miscellaneous fat. Using but not depleting the surplus.

All these elements combined have made for a reasonable 2011 town budget proposal from Supervisor Sean Walter.

Town Board members should continue on the path set by the supervisor as they tweak and otherwise prepare the budget for final approval — as long as those tweaks don’t mean raising property taxes further.

The town’s well-compensated police union members, who are — and should be — attentive to the concerns of Riverhead residents — should approve a lag payroll, as the union leaders have recommended. Union members have yet to vote on the measure.

By deferring some compensation until retirement, a lag payroll would save the town $230,000 in 2011 and keep the tax rate hike under 5 percent, according to Mr. Walter. While the savings per citizen may not be much, staying below that mark could be psychologically therapeutic to Riverhead residents because it’s a clear sign that the town’s government is stable.

Keep in mind that delaying officers’ pay may not be the only sacrifice coming out of the police department next year. In his budget speech last week, Mr. Walter said he had proposed a “dramatic” decrease in police overtime as well.

He has budgeted $600,000 in police overtime for 2011, about $135,000 less than was spent in 2009. Since 2003, overtime costs have never fallen below $720,000. That is an uncertain component of the supervisors’ spending plan. Police overtime hours can always be reined in, but they often have to do with factors beyond the supervisor’s or anyone else’s control; the timing of crimes and arrests cannot be planned a year ahead of time. To rely on that anticipated savings may not be realistic.

Those reservations aside, kudos to Mr. Walter on his first spending plan. And he crafted it without any major cuts in vital services.

This post was originally published Oct. 6