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Levy Touts Reforms

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy

The office County Executive Steve Levy issued this press release today:

A trio of major initiatives advanced by County Executive Steve Levy over the past week could boost governmental and business interests in Suffolk by combining purchasing needs to save millions of taxpayer dollars, containing pension costs and ending abuses that are walloping county budgets and speeding building-permit application processes countywide via an innovative web site.

Levy has long advocated that public entities leverage their buying power to achieve spending reductions and eliminate duplicative administrative cost. His vision took a major step forward on October 20 when he was joined by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and elected officials from municipalities in both counties to sign a landmark bi-county agreement to form the Long Island Purchasing Council (LIPC).

Major partners in the LIPC include Brookhaven Town (the largest of Suffolk’s towns) as well as the Town of Oyster Bay and the Village of Mineola. By adopting legislation to join the LIPC, these significant municipalities have signaled that they recognize the immense savings achievable from this first-ever alliance on Long Island.

“We’re gratified to see this idea gaining traction and becoming a reality,” said Levy. “ A formalized joint purchasing agreement will allow our two counties, and countless municipalities, to cut spending, reduce overall costs and holding the line on property taxes.”

The effort is similar to an existing joint purchasing cooperative first organized in 2002 by the Counties of Dutchess, Rockland and Ulster, known as the Hudson Valley Municipal Purchasing Group that has, for example, saved $130,000 in copy paper costs for its members on a single $1.2 million paper bid. The combined population of Suffolk and Nassau counties is 2.8 million, which is larger than 19 states and should lead to significant savings.

The Long Island Purchasing Council is open to all Long Island municipalities who adopt a resolution approving membership and agree to the organizations by-laws.   The Council will be managed by a seven member Board of Directors consisting of two purchasing directors from the organizing local governments (Suffolk and Nassau), one Suffolk County representative, one Nassau County representative, and three purchasing managers from other member municipalities.

Pension Reform Seen As Pivotal

Levy, joined by Suffolk Legislator Tom Cilmi, also issued a review of pension practices last week that defines reforms needed on the state level to allow the county greater control of escalating costs and to curb abuse of the system. Levy’s plan seeks to eliminate the abuses in the system that allow employees to increase their pensions by thousands of dollars a year for the rest of their lives — to the point where former county employees are retiring with pensions exceeding $150,000 annually, and where one former employee who only worked four years with the county is receiving a pension of just over $100,000.

The review suggests a change in state law that would create a new Defined Contribution Plan  — a 401(k)-type plan similar to the popular optional system used by colleges and universities across the nation — that would provide the county with greater predictability in annual costs and provide employees more control over their retirement plans. The report suggests that such a new plan would be made mandatory for all new county employees, and voluntary for existing employees.  This defined contribution approach has a proven track record with systems like TIAA-CREF (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund)  which currently serves 3.7 million active and retired employees participating in more than 27,000 retirement plans and has over $426 billion in combined assets under management.

Along with a Defined Contribution Plan, Levy said he will also seek from Albany creation of a new Tier 6 that will reform the way pensions are calculated for all new employees. The Tier 6 plan would:

  • Eliminate the inclusion of overtime and compensatory time in calculating pension benefits;
  • Eliminate the inclusion of holiday pay and longevity pay in calculating pension benefits;
  • Eliminate the allowance of 30 days’ vacation time in calculating pension benefits;
  • Equalize the employee/employer rate of contribution;
  • Extend the time for employees covered by a 20 year special plan to retire from 20 years with no age requirement to 25 years or 50 years old
  • Extend the time for employees covered by a 25 year  special plan to retire from 25 years with no age requirement to 30 years or 55 years old

Unified, Online Permit Process Would Cut Through Red Tape

Levy was joined by prominent members of the business community, government leaders and members of his Economic Development Consortium at an October 18 news conference where they provided details about the framework for a new, online platform that is being designed to interconnect and eventually streamline building permit application processes throughout the county and its 10 towns.

All 10 municipalities across the county have agreed to contribute to development of the “Suffolk Unified Permit Portal” (SUPP). The portal will provide a gateway to various governmental web sites where permits currently can be downloaded and filed. As it further develops in the year ahead, SUPP is expected to facilitate parallel reviews and reduce ‘application to decision’ timelines. SUPP establishes an inter-municipal cooperative whereby the county, town and villages will post an identical step-by-step permit process matrix on their respective websites. A steering committee that will include Suffolk Information Management Commissioner Gary Quinn will be convening to identify and recommend technology requirements as well as the application process workflow.

The portal concept was developed in concert with the Suffolk County Planning Commission and is a key element of an ambitious, 10-point action plan advanced by Levy and his Economic Development Consortium to encourage existing and emerging industries alike to take root and grow in Suffolk County.

Levy’s goal in creating the consortium one year ago was “to continue listening to the needs of the business community and to develop creative approaches that will sustain and grow Suffolk’s diverse economic base.”

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