What They Make, 2015-16

| Reports

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-9-45-32-amLocal government is a labor-intensive business, and employee compensation is the single biggest element of most municipal budgets. The 2015-16 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 all local governments other than New York City.1 The data do not include job titles; however, for the first time, this report includes separate analysis of the pay received by uniformed police and fire employees.

The latest county and municipal payroll database includes 2015-16 fiscal year payroll information for full-time and part-time workers actively enrolled in the pension system as of August 2016. 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 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 into three categories: “General Employees”, “Police” and “Fire.”2 Highlights:

  • New York’s highest-paid local government employee in 2015-16 was William L. Ricca, chief of the Northport Police Department, who was paid $345,659.
  • Thirteen of the state’s 20 highest-paid local employees were Nassau County Police Department officers.
  • Forty-seven of the 50 highest-paid local employees were police officers.
  • The highest average pay reported for any group of local employees was the $222,394 collected by the Village of Kings Point’s 21 police officers.

Information on individual public employee salaries 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 175,262 people who collected a total of $9.5 billion in pay from 1,259 local governments outside New York City during the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016.3

Regional differences

The types of local government employees who top the pay lists in each region vary. In parts of upstate, elected district attorneys rank among the top 10, while the Mid-Hudson and Long Island lists are dominated by police officers. In the North Country, two municipalities (Lewis County and the town of Massena) operated hospitals, affecting average pay figures for both communities.

Who’s missing?

“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 is reported. This can happen for several reasons, including:

  • An employee is already collecting a pension from the system.
  • Many community college employees belong to SUNY’s Optional Retirement Plan, a 401k-style plan, instead of the state’s defined-benefit pension plan. The counties that employ them make no payments to the state pension system.
  • Thanks to the 2012 state pension reform, some non-union employees are eligible for the state’s 401k-style Voluntary Defined Contribution 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 the plan was offered.4

Double-dipping?

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. Based on this information, there were 4,239 instances in which the same individual drew a salary from two or more public employers in New York State during 2015-16.

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. In 39 instances, individuals had five or more employers. Several of them work as code enforcement officers or assessors for multiple local governments.

Seventeen employees collected pay over $200,000 by working for two local government employers. Nine of them were Suffolk County police officers who were also paid by a village police department during the same year.

In some cases, however, the same person held high-paying jobs with at least two local governments simultaneously. The highest-paid individual paid concurrently by multiple local governments during 2015-16 was Michael Genito, who was paid $180,650 by the city of White Plains and $68,900 by the village of Suffern.

1. Several employees are listed as receiving $265,000 in pay. This reflects the federal limit on salaried pay that can be credited toward certain pensions. The employees’ actual pay may be higher.

2. A category labeled “Special Districts,” including library, fire, and other districts, exists on the SeeThroughNY.net database, but is not included in this report because the information provided by the Comptroller does not easily allow for such categorization.

3. Includes multiple counts of individuals listed with more than one employer.

4. www.empirecenter.org/publications/retirement-choice-popular-so-far