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County reaches deal with two unions, employees will now contribute to health care plan

For the first time, Suffolk County employees will contribute toward their health care plan under a new agreement reached with County Executive Steve Bellone last week.

During his 2018 State of the County address, Mr. Bellone cited health insurance costs as the biggest financial issue facing the county. At the time, those costs represented 15% of the total county budget. “We needed to rein that in,” said Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman in an interview Tuesday. 

Mr. Kaiman explained that the agreement creates new copays, such as a $100 emergency room copay, and raises deductibles for those who opt for out-of-network providers.

The county had been considering asking employees to pay 15% of their total health care costs. “The problem is, if you make $40,000, that’s 10% of your entire salary,” he said.

Under the agreement, county employees will pay 2% of their salaries toward health coverage, which will increase incrementally until reaching 2.5%, county officials said.

The annual minimum contribution will be $1,500 and the maximum will be $3,750, increasing to $4,000 after five years.

Officials estimate the health care agreement will save taxpayers $40 million next year, with the potential to save more in the future.

Mr. Bellone also announced new contracts with the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association and the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees.

The six-year PBA deal will result in the lowest police raises in decades, averaging at 1.8%.

According to officials, the deal maintains a 12-year schedule for police officers to receive top pay, which will now be the same for all officers. Previously, there was a second tier of top pay that Mr. Kaiman said likely would not have made it through arbitration.

The county will also save money on overtime costs by requiring new police officers to work additional days, requiring all officers to complete their annual firearms qualification training on an off-duty day and cutting sick days in half from 26 to 13.

“We wanted a structural change to how policing works. We pay $30 to $40 million a year in overtime. If we could cut that in half, that’s significant,” Mr. Kaiman said.

In a statement, Suffolk PBA president Noel DiGerolamo said the deal was fair, “while recognizing the fiscal realities of Suffolk County.”

There are 1,700 police officers in Suffolk County.

The Suffolk AME, which had been without a contract since January 2017, will receive an average raise of 1.5% each year through 2024, officials said. “While every contract is the result of negotiation that will leave either side wanting more, this is a fair contract and moves our county forward,” Suffolk AME president Dan Levler said in a statement.

“These agreements represent a major milestone that protect the taxpayer and are fair to the hardworking men and women who ensure our public safety and help operate county government,” Mr. Bellone said in a statement.

According to a financial impact statement released from the county executive’s office Monday, the deal could cost $192 million for both unions and result in $195 million in savings.

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