A Delaware County employee was named the highest-paid in the Southern Tier, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany-based nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.

Fern J. Thomas, a psychiatrist with the Delaware County Department of Mental Health, was paid $266,240 during the 12-month period ending March 31, more than any other municipal government worker in the Southern Tier, which the report classifies as Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Delaware, Otsego, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins counties.

“There is a shortage of those people — psychiatrists — so she’s worth her salary,” said Tina Molé, Bovina town supervisor and chair of the Delaware County Board of Supervisors.

Specialized mental health professionals tend to be among the top-paid municipal employees upstate, according to E.J. McMahon, Empire Center research director.

“There’s fewer specialists of that sort in Delaware County especially,” McMahon said.

Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl, one of seven district attorneys to make the Southern Tier Top 10, ranked No. 6 with an annual salary of $197,362.

Under state judiciary law, district attorneys must receive an annual salary equivalent to that of a State Supreme Court justice, whose pay is determined by the state.

District attorneys consistently rank among the top paid municipal employees upstate because regional salaries tend to be lower by comparison, McMahon said. “If you look at other, more rural areas upstate, it’s similar.”

Police and firefighters downstate are typically the top earners of their regions, McMahon said, with generally higher salaries padded by overtime, though first responders in upstate urban centers are also paid more.

Two Utica police officers and a firefighter made the Mohawk Valley list, and three Buffalo police officers were among the top-earning municipal employees in Western New York, according to the report.

The 2018-2019 edition of “What They Make,” the Empire Center’s annual report on public payrolls, is based on data submitted annually to the New York State and Local Retirement System by local governments outside New York City, according to the organization.

The salaries listed in the report do not include fringe benefits such as health insurance or pension contributions, which can add more than 35% to taxpayer expenses, according to the report.

© 2019 The Daily Star

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