04/18/12 9:00pm

Councilman Paul Shepherd’s got a point when he says the town’s policy on employee health contributions rewards the strong and punishes the weak.

Aside from the brouhaha over the three unofficial beaches the county wants the town to post with “swimming prohibited” signs, Mr. Shepherd’s crusade is the talk of the town. But his drumbeat over the issue begins to sound like noise if he means to say that once anyone is required to contribute a certain percentage everyone should be required to do the same.

Town police pay nothing for their health care. East End towns and villages for years have not been able to play hardball very effectively with their local police unions because Suffolk and Nassau Counties have made their police departments among the highest paid in the country. That sets a high bar for all departments in the region.

That having been said, the Shelter Island PBA did right by the town and its taxpayers in its last two contracts: minimal annual raises of 3 percent in 2009, 2010 and 2011 under terms that were settled last year through binding arbitration; and 2-percent pay raises in 2012, 2013 and 2014, under a deal that was made through straightforward and productive negotiations. Supervisor Jim Dougherty deserves congratulations and the PBA deserves thanks for that eminently reasonable agreement.

But health care contributions are the “Alamo” for police unions across the region, Supervisor Dougherty has said. As health care costs skyrocket out of control, and municipalities continue to face strict limits on their revenues, that battle will have to be fought — and we all know how it worked out for the Texans who manned the Alamo in 1836.

It’s not just the police who don’t pay any part of their health insurance premiums. Neither do most town employees because that was the deal when they were hired. Highway workers who came on before 2005 don’t pay anything; those hired later but before 2011 pay 15 percent; and those hired this year or later must pay 20 percent. For CSEA workers, those hired before 2007 pay nothing; those hired later but before 2012 pay 20 percent. The requirement for those hired in 2012 and later is in negotiation.

For non-union employees, those hired before September 1, 2004 pay nothing; those hired between that date and February 28, 2009 pay 15 percent. Those hired March 1, 2009 or later pay 25 percent.

Would Mr. Shepherd have the town renege on its agreements in order to impose across-the-board “fairness”? That’s not fair — and more to the point the town can’t do it without facing the consequences in court. Having a point and dealing with reality are, alas, not always the same thing.