Local government is a labor-intensive business, and employee compensation is the single biggest element of most municipal budgets. The 2017-18 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, the report does include separate analysis of the pay received by uniformed police and fire employees.
The latest county and municipal payroll database includes 2017-18 state fiscal year payroll information for full-time and part-time workers actively enrolled in the pension system as of August 2018. 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 into three categories: general employees, police and fire.2 Highlights include:
- New York’s highest-paid local government employee in 2017-18 was Thomas J. Cokeley, a Ramapo town police officer, who was paid $323,562.
- Forty-seven of the 50 highest-paid local employees were police officers. Fourteen of them worked for the Nassau County Police Department. Among the 10 highest-paid employees, three (including Cokeley) were town police officers in Rockland County.
- The highest average pay reported for any group of local employees was the $223,935 paid to Village of Kings Point’s 19 police officers, up slightly from the $220,088 village officers averaged last year. The highest average pay among non-uniformed employees was $97,468 paid to 12 Sands Point village employees.
- 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 175,286 people who were paid a total of $9.7 billion by 1,510 local governments outside New York City during the fiscal year ending March 31, 2018.3
The types of local government employees who top the pay lists in each region vary. In parts of upstate, elected district attorneys, community college officials and mental health professionals 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, 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 2017-18 data found 4,273 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. Forty-one individuals had five or more employers. Several of them worked as code enforcement officers or assessors for multiple local governments.
Thirty employees collected pay over $200,000 by working for two local government employers, up from 26 the previous year. Twenty of the 30 were Suffolk County employees (up from 17 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 simultaneously. The highest-paid individual paid concurrently by multiple local governments during 2017-18 was Charles M. Lohmann, who worked simultaneously as an investigator for the Suffolk County District Attorney ($242,988) and as police chief for the village of Head of the Harbor ($44,876).
- Some employees are listed as receiving $270,000 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, 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.
- Includes multiple counts of individuals listed with more than one employer.
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"Readers will recall that the Empire Center is the think tank that spent months trying to pry Covid data out of Mr. Cuomo’s government, which offered a series of unbelievable excuses for its refusal to disclose...five months after it sued the government, and one week after a state court ruled that the Cuomo administration had violated the law and ordered it to come clean—Team Cuomo finally started coughing up some of the records." -Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2021
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