New York City Fire Department (FDNY) pensions have averaged more than $100,000 for new retirees for the past seven years, according to data previously withheld by the pension fund and obtained by the Empire Center after a lengthy court battle.
The data, detailing pensions of 15,911 FDNY retirees, were posted today on SeeThroughNY, the Empire Center’s transparency website.
The average pension for the 360 firefighters retiring in fiscal year 2014 was $103,886. The fund’s largest pension—$284,624—was that of Michael A. Vecchi, who retired in 2013 as an associate commissioner. An additional seven pensions topped $200,000 in 2014 alone.
Firefighters pensions exceed six figures in part because the majority of New York City firefighters have been retiring on disability pensions since 2001, according to other pension system data. Disability pensions amount to 75 percent of final average salaries, while normal “service retirement” pensions are 50 percent of final average salaries.
The data posted at SeeThroughNY do not indicate whether pensions are for disabilities or service retirements. The data posted at SeeThroughNY also do not include a separate $12,000 annual “variable supplement” paid to all service retirees from the New York City Fire Department and Police Department, but not to those receiving disability pensions.
After a four-year court fight with state and city pension systems that ended with the Court of Appeals siding with the Empire Center in 2014, two FDNY unions sued to prevent the Fire Department Pension Fund from complying with the ruling. In April, a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge ordered the fund to release the data to the Empire Center, affirming the public’s right to know both pension amounts and the names of retirees receiving pensions.
“When pensions need to be funded, it is taxpayers who have to answer the call,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center. “It is unfortunate that the unions and pension funds were so determined to prevent the public from seeing just what the taxpayers are on the hook for.”
The Empire Center is a non-partisan, non-profit independent think tank based in Albany. In addition to maximum pension allowances for public-sector retirees, SeeThroughNY includes salaries for all state and local government employees, including those working in public authorities; 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.