New York’s six-figure public sector pension club keeps growing, with 2,931 retirees getting benefits above $100,000, according to the latest figures.

That’s beyond the 2,700 six-figure pensioners counted a year before.

Of those, 1,777 were police or fire department retirees, according to the Empire Center, which listed the data on its SeeThroughNY data/base website.

It’s based on the fiscal year ending last March.

Overall, public employees in New York state, aside from police officers or firefighters, were eligible for average pension benefits of $52,517 if they had at least 35 years on the job, the Empire Center found. That, for example, would cover someone who started working for state or local government at age 25 and retired at 60.

Police and firefighters did better, being eligible for pensions averaging $89,517 if they had at least 35 years.

For all public employees who retired in 2014, though, the average pension was $27,078, or $68,972 for police and fire. That includes those who spent just part of their careers on a public payroll.

One thing that hasn’t changed this year is the state’s top-dollar pensioner.

For the sixth year running, George M. Philip was in top place, with a $261,649 pension.

Philip was the executive director of state’s Teachers Retirement Systemand then served as the president of the University at Albany.

The teachers retirement system is separate from the state and local as well as police and fire systems. This latest report excludes teachers and other educators as well as New York City employees, all of whom have their own systems.

Several of the other top-dollar pensioners in the Empire Center report included those in the medical field and executives from the Port Authority.

A fiscally conservative watchdog group, Empire Center offers numerous data bases on its site, including a pension calculator that lets private sector employees calculate what they would need for a pension such as the $52,517 payment for public employees (For most people it would require about $900,000).

The pensions are separate from Social Security. And public sector pensions in New York are exempt from state income tax.

So are public sector pensions sustainable?

“It is sustainable as long as we put enough into it,” said E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center.

“They are basically backstopped by taxpayers,” he said. With public sector pensions guaranteed in the state constitution, taxpayers have to make up the difference if the pension funds have a bad year due to a poor stock market.

Either way, the number of six figure pensioners has risen steadily over the years.

The Times Union in 2008 reported fewer than 1,000 retirees were on that list.

Lawmakers, prodded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, tightened up pension rules in 2012, creating a new Tier VI for employees going forward.

Major changes including extending from five to 10 years the time it took to be vested in the system and raising from 62 to 63 the age at which one can collect full benefits. Much of the savings from Tier VI, though, will show up years later, when newly hired people are retiring.

Pensions for the 394,020 retirees listed in the Empire Center’s latest look totaled $9.7 billion, up from $9.3 billion last year.

State’s top five pensioners

George M. Philip, $261,649 NYS Teachers Retirement System

Milton H. Pachter,$250,874, Port Authority

Ivan M. Lisnitzer,$245,497, SUNY Health Science Center Brooklyn

Aaron P. Blanco, $233,065, Port Authority

Edward A. Stolzenberg, $223,223, Westchester Health Care Corp.

Source: Empire Center, based on Comptroller’s data as of 2014

© 2015 Times Union

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