Southold Town Board members hired eight new police officers Tuesday night, just minutes after passing a $40.9 million spending plan for 2015 and almost two weeks after entering into a new contract with the police union.
Members voted 6-0 in favor of the budget, which calls for a 1.87 percent tax levy increase from this year.
“I certainly thank [Supervisor Scott Russell] for his tenacity on this,” said councilman Bill Ruland prior to voting “yes” on the budget. “[The budget] balances the needs of the taxpayer and the needs of the town.”
One of those needs was the hiring of police officers, eight of which were appointed in a unanimous vote once the budget was approved. The impasse had left the department, which was down to 43 police officers as of July, understaffed.
Both sides had entered into binding arbitration for a new agreement, which was signed Nov. 6. The new contract runs for two years and raises salaries by 2 percent each year. The police union’s last contract, which was also settled through binding arbitration, expired in April 2012.
The last time the town and the union successfully negotiated a contract was in December 2009.
Town police will be receiving retroactive pay from January 2012 through December 2013. Retro pay for 2014 will be settled in the next contract.
Earlier this year, Chief Martin Flatley told The Suffolk Times the department was down about 10 to 12 officers. Although the board had budgeted for new police officers in the past, those positions weren’t being filled until a new contract was signed.
The deal states that new hires will pay 15 percent into their health insurance and guarantees the town will continue paying the same percentage of an officer’s health insurance premiums for the duration of their retirement, until they’re Medicare-eligible at 65.
Chief Flatley commended the board for the hires.
“It is so sorely needed for our department,” he said at the meeting. “I thank the town for their patience.”
Town Board members agreed.
“This has been a long time coming and there are no finer candidates in Southold Town,” said Councilman Jim Dinizio.
After the meeting Mr. Russell also said he was pleased with the agreement, adding that the two-year deal, through settled through arbitration, is a good foundation for future negotiations. Talks are already in the works so the town and union don’t run into the same set of problems after this new contract expires, he said.
Five of the eight new hires — Jacob Bogden, Robert Haase Jr., John Hinton, Michael Sirico and Garrett Lake — begin Nov. 24. Two more, Tara Tandy and Samuel Nitsch, will start working in town upon graduating from the Suffolk County Police Academy.
The eighth recruit, Alex Chence, will be appointed at a date to determined.