Once upon a time, anyone who wanted to know what local government employees were paid had to pick the right meeting to go to and hope the board didn’t go into executive session, or file a Freedom of Information Act request and wait.

Enter the Empire Center for Public Policy.

The government watchdog agency issues reports and maintains a searchable data base with salaries and other data from local governments throughout the state.

The center’s web site, SeeThroughNY.net, aims to give taxpayers insight into how their tax dollars are being spent. The site contains data from the state, counties, towns, villages, school districts and public authorities throughout the state, making it possible for taxpayers to analyze and compare salaries. Information comes from the state Comptroller’s office, public retirement systems, and individual school districts and government agencies.

Annual reports — the 2017-18 report was released Aug. 27 — reveal which jobs pay the highest by region. Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties are in the Finger Lakes region, along with Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Wayne and Yates counties. No Genesee, Orleans or Wyoming county municipal employees made the list of the 50 highest paid employees. Top 50 salaries ranged from $265,360 to $323,562, and 44 of those top salaries are for police.

The highest-paid county general employee in the Finger Lakes region is Dr. James Sunser, president of Genesee Community College, with a salary of $258,690, including regular pay, overtime and pay for unused sick and vacation time. Also in the top 10 for the Finger Lakes region are county district attorneys, whose pay is mandated by the state: Lawrence Friedman of Genesee County, $185,200; Gregory J. McCaffrey of Livingston County, $184,883; Donald O’Geen of Wyoming County, $183,188; and Joseph V. Cardone of Orleans County, $182,345.

When it comes to average salaries for county employees, Genesee’s 754 workers ranked fifth in the nine-county Finger Lakes region, with an average salary of $41,302; Orleans ranked sixth, with its 367 employees averaging $40,390; and Wyoming ranked lowest in the region, with its 957 employees averaging $38,588.

The City of Batavia ranked fourth, or lowest, among cities in the Finger Lakes, paying its 76 employees an average of $46,362. Of the more than 125 towns in the Finger Lakes region, the Town of Batavia ranked third, with its 34 employees averaging $46,074. That put it just below Greece and above Brighton. Geneva ranked No. 1, paying its 17 employees an average of $54,338.

The top paying village in the Finger Lakes region is Bergen, which pays its 11 employees an average of $57,009. Arcade ranks third, with 31 employees paid an average of $55,279. There are 55 villages in the region.

The public can search the SeeThroughNY.net data base by entering an individual’s name to find salary. It should be noted of the 175,286 employees included, 4,273 are paid by two or more local government employers. They may have changed jobs, or work part time for several municipalities – for example, code enforcement officers and assessors. It should also be noted that the database covers 1,510 local governments outside New York City. School district salaries are also in the data base.

New York State is not known for its transparency.

Yet the public needs to know – deserves to know – how much government workers are paid, in order to judge return on investment. Taxpayers understand paying good salaries for good employees and service; they are less understanding when the pay is good but the service is not. They also need to know if their employees are not being paid enough in comparison to those in similar positions in other municipalities. But they need easy access to figures so they can judge, and so they can be vigilant.

In the end, an employee is always worth what someone is willing to pay him or her.

But the public has a right to ask, and that is where the Empire Center for Public Policy and SeeThroughNY.net can help. The information is available.

It is up to the public to use it.

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