Now batting, basketball referees.

Yes, that's a mixed metaphor, but it fits because here we are deep into spring and the fellows who officiate Public League hoops have yet to be paid, and they're itching to take swings.

Frustrated? Upset? Downright hissed would be the best description.

Since reading last Monday that the Public squad preparing for the 33rd annual Daily News-Eagles City All-Star Football Game was short on equipment because the school district had not paid past bills for offseason reconditioning (that situation has since been resolved), basketball refs have been peppering the DN with e-mails and voice messages.

To paraphrase: What about us? Find out why we haven't been paid! This is a joke.

Turns out, this is not a new problem.

Numerous officials in all sports said late payments have been a problem for several years and that the time lag has been steadily increasing. A school-district insider confirmed that.

"Last year," he said, "the spring-sports guys did not get their money until August. Now it's 2 1/2 months after [the PL basketball championship game; and 5 1/2 months since the season began], and the checks have not gone out. And still might not for a while."

Another insider claimed last night that spring-sports officials will get their payments by the end of June, the same target date now in effect for the winter-sports guys.

Robert Coleman, the director of athletics for the school district, did not respond to numerous messages left by the Daily News over the last 4 days.

Said one hoops ref: "It's bad enough that you don't get the money. But when you try to get answers, all you get is a run-around. Keep us informed. Common courtesy."

Added another: "We feel hoodwinked, betrayed, led astray."

That fellow insisted the basketball guys are already planning a protest for next season.

PL basketball officials work for $60 per game. The Catholic and Inter-Ac leagues pay slightly more, as do schools in the suburbs, and the refs most often receive payment within 2 weeks. Sometimes on the spot. The time lag is never more than 1 month, numerous officials said.

As the PL's size has mushroomed in recent years, finding enough officials for all of the games has become increasingly difficult. This payment issue doesn't help.

"Lots of guys are at the point, 'Why deal with this? I'll stick with Catholic League and suburban games,' " one ref said. *