Local government is a labor-intensive business, and employee compensation is the single biggest element of most municipal budgets. The 2018-19 edition of What They Make, the Empire Center’s annual report on public payrolls, allows New York taxpayers to compare this key element of local government costs around the state.
The information in this report—broken down by region and by type of government—is based on data submitted annually to the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) by local governments outside New York City.1 The data do not include job titles; however, the report does include separate analysis of uniformed police and fire pay.
The latest county and municipal payroll database includes 2018-19 state fiscal year payroll information for full-time and part-time workers actively enrolled in the pension system as of August 2019. The figures used to compute the averages include regular pay, overtime and pay for unused sick and vacation time. However, the figures do not include employer pension contributions, health insurance and other fringe benefits—elements of total compensation that can add 35 percent or more to personnel costs.
This report provides a summary analysis of the data, broken down by local government level: County, City, Town, Village and Fire District. They are then divided into three categories: general employees, police and fire.2 Highlights include:
- New York’s highest-paid local government employee in 2018-19 was Brad R. Weidel, the Police Chief for the Town of Ramapo, who was paid $403,650.
- Forty-three of the 50 highest-paid local employees were police officers, including 35 on Long Island. Six of the 10 highest-paid employees were police officers.
- The top-paying local government was the Village of Kings Point. Serving an affluent community on Long Island’s north shore, the village’s 19 police officers were paid an average of $254,581, and its 17 non-uniformed employees were paid an average of $93,604.
- The town of Harrison’s 34 firefighters were paid an average of $182,885, the highest pay of any local fire department employees outside New York City.
Individual public employee pay records for every year starting in 2008-09 can be found at the Empire Center’s transparency website, SeeThroughNY.net. The site includes a searchable database of 192,980 people who were paid a total of $10.7 billion by 1,523 local governments outside New York City during the fiscal year ending March 31, 2019.3
The occupational categories of highest-paid government employees vary on a regional basis. County district attorneys, community college officials and mental health professionals rank among the top 10 in much of upstate New York, while police officers dominate the top of the list in downstate suburban regions. In the North Country, two municipalities (Lewis County and the town of Massena) operated hospitals, skewing pay averages for each.
What They Make uses pay data reported to the New York State and Local Retirement System. However, if a public employer is not making payments on an individual’s behalf, no data are reported. This can happen for several reasons:
- An employee is already collecting a pension from the system.
- Many community college employees belong to SUNY’s Optional Retirement Plan, a 401(k)-style plan, instead of the state’s defined-benefit pension plan. The counties that employ them make no payments to the state pension system on their behalf.
- Thanks to the 2012 state pension reform, some non-union employees are eligible for the state’s 401(k)-style Voluntary Defined Contribution (VDC) retirement plan. Like the SUNY Optional Retirement Plan, the VDC plan takes the long-term responsibility of funding retirements off the shoulders of taxpayers. In Rochester alone, 11 employees joined during the first two years it was offered.4
While employee home addresses and other personal identifying information are appropriately treated as confidential, the pension system does provide original hire dates for each individual on a local payroll. An analysis of 2018-19 data found 5,590 individuals who were paid by two or more local government employers in New York.
In most cases, the pay amounts reported for individuals listed under multiple employers suggest the person changed jobs during the year or had multiple part-time jobs. Sixty-four individuals had five or more employers. Several of them worked as code enforcement officers or assessors for multiple local governments.
Most individuals working for multiple local governments were part-timers, such as attorneys and assessors, whose combined salaries were well below $100,000. However, 38 employees collected pay over $200,000 by working for two local government employers, up from 30 the previous year. Twenty-five of the 38 were Suffolk County employees (up from 20 last year) who also were paid by a village police department.
In some cases, however, the same person held high-paying jobs with at least two local governments. The highest-paid individual paid concurrently by multiple local governments during 2018-19 was Charles M. Lohmann, who earned a combined total of $316,983 as an investigator for the Suffolk County District Attorney ($270,855) and as police chief for the village of Head of the Harbor ($46,128).
- Some employees are listed as receiving $275,000 in pay, reflecting the federal limit on salaried pay that can be credited toward certain pensions. The actual pay may be higher.
- A category labeled “Special Districts,” including library, police, and other districts, exists on the SeeThroughNY.net database, but is not included in this report because the information provided by NYSLRS does not easily allow for such categorization.
- The report includes multiple counts of individuals listed with more than one employer.