New York City firefighters and fire officers who retired during the 2016 fiscal year were eligible for average pensions of $119,863, a 6 percent increase over the previous year, according to data gleaned from 15,557 Fire Department pension records updated today on SeeThroughNY, the Empire Center’s transparency website.
Among the 407 city fire officers and firefighters who retired between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, a dozen are eligible for pensions over $200,000, the data show, bringing to 78 the total number of retirees with pensions above that amount. Seventeen percent of all uniformed Fire Department retirees (2,659) were eligible for pensions of more than $100,000, up from 8 percent (1,267) in 2011.
The high average levels of firefighter and fire officer pensions largely reflect a high percentage of retirees receiving line-of-duty disability pensions, which are 75 percent of salary as opposed to the 50 percent available to normal service retirements. Higher benefits also include payments from an optional, guaranteed-return supplemental account supported in part by additional savings contributions by firefighters who choose to participate in that plan.
“New York City’s pension costs are on track to consume 17 percent of the city’s tax receipts,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center. “Taxpayers should be able to see exactly what kind of commitments their elected officials have made to current and former employees, because they’re going to be paying for them for a long time to come.”
The Fire Department retirement system has long been financially the least robust of New York City’s five municipal employee pension funds, with assets equaling just 55 percent of its accrued long-term liabilities as of the latest available estimate, which dates to fiscal 2014. Even that level is artificially high, because it is based on government accounting standards rejected as too lenient by many private-sector actuaries and economists.
The data is available to the public thanks to five years of legal action by the Empire Center. In April 2015, following a legal intervention by the Empire Center, a Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn blocked efforts by the New York City Fire Department unions and the New York City Fire Department Pension Fund to conceal pension payments from the public.
The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies that can make New York a better place to live, work and do business. SeeThroughNY includes payroll and pension data for state and local government employees and retirees; detailed expenditure data for the state Legislature; comparative statistics on local government spending; a searchable database of state revenue and expenditures; and copies of all teacher union contracts and superintendent of schools contracts.