Long Island’s 13 towns and two cities spent a total of $725 million on payrolls in 2014 — a 3.5 percent increase from 2013 — as the total number of employees grew slightly after years of decline, a Newsday analysis shows.
Towns and cities had a total of 20,339 full- and part-time employees in 2014, up from 20,244 in 2013. The change represents the first increase since Newsday started tracking islandwide payroll data in 2011, when towns and cities employed 21,001 workers. Newsday collected data from all 13 towns and the cities of Long Beach and Glen Cove.
Overall, 1,406 town and city employees made more than $100,000 in 2014.
The increase in payroll came after a 3.5 percent decline in total employee pay between 2012 and 2013.
“After a decline of so many years, these are positions that are needed but have been cut from 2010 to 2012,” said Chris Anderson, director of research for the Association of Towns of the State of New York.
Oyster Bay’s workforce rose by 61 people last year after officials realized that its 2013 loss of 361 workers — many through financial incentives to leave — had left the town with too few employees, Supervisor John Venditto said.
Towns are constrained by the state tax cap, set at 1.66 percent in 2014, leading some of them to fill positions that had been held by a full-time employee with one or two part-timers, who often don’t receive town-paid benefits, Anderson said. That can cause the number of employees to rise, even if costs fall, he said.
Strong economy seen driving pay increases
The increase in payroll costs, which was greater on Long Island than in towns statewide in two of the past three years, may be due in part to a more robust economy that means Long Island towns must pay more to attract qualified workers, Anderson said, adding that union contract requirements also are a factor.
Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman was the Island’s highest paid city manager, mayor or town supervisor in 2014, with a salary of $165,951. Huntington Supervisor Frank P. Petrone was second with $163,845. In 2013, Petrone topped the list and Schnirman, whose total pay increased by more than $8,500, was second.
Overall, police employees took all but two of the 50 top spots on the list of the highest-paid town and city employees.
The cities of Long Beach and Glen Cove and the towns of Riverhead, Southampton, East Hampton, Southold and Shelter Island have their own police departments, which consistently make up the largest portion of payroll costs. The other towns rely on county police departments.
Retirees Corey Klein, who was corporation counsel in Long Beach, and Maryann Hughes, the former Oyster Bay commissioner of intergovernmental affairs, had the largest nonpolice pay packages in 2014. Klein was paid $257,929 that year; Hughes, $233,387. Much of their pay came from retirement-related payouts, city and town officials said.
Highest paid current employee
The highest-paid nonretiree other than police employees was Hempstead Director of Communications Michael Deery, who was paid $193,692.
The largest payout for a town or city worker on Long Island was for former Glen Cove police Lt. Ralph Bruschini, who died in January 2014 after 30 years with the department. His 2014 compensation of $448,800, which included accrued vacation and sick-day pay, went to his family.
Including Bruschini, 30 of the 35 highest-paid town and city employees worked for the Long Beach Police Department, led by Commissioner Michael Tagney. His $385,395 income included five years of retroactive salary hikes required by a 2013 arbitration decision, and vacation and sick-day pay from when he was a union-affiliated officer.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller was the highest-paid town employee in Suffolk County, with total pay of $327,605, including more than $100,000 for 125 days of accrued sick days.
Police pay attributed to arbitration
E.J. McMahon, president of the Albany-based Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, attributed the police pay to a 1974 state law that mandated binding arbitration when police and a municipality reach a negotiating impasse. Large pay increases in the 1970s started what McMahon called “a self-propelled cycle.”
“The pattern was set early in arbitration and snowballed going forward,” he said.
Despite the costs of maintaining their own police departments, officials say it’s worth the expense.
“The community supports a local police department because they believe a local police department is going to address the issues that we want a police department to address,” East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell said.
Overtime pay for Long Island towns and city workers accounted for more than $35 million, or 4.8 percent of total salary costs, with Brookhaven spending the most at nearly $6.5 million, or 9.5 percent of the town’s total payroll expenditures.
Matt Miner, Brookhaven’s chief of operations and commissioner of waste management, said the town spends about $20,000 per employee each year for health care, and in many cases having someone work overtime rather than hiring more people helps hold down spending. He said the town also frequently uses its own employees instead of outside contractors for many capital projects, which can drive up overtime, but saves money overall.
Brookhaven payroll down $45,000
Brookhaven has reduced its workforce by 19 percent since 2008, Miner said. The town reduced its overall payroll spending by $45,000 compared to the previous year. “You can’t just look at overtime by itself,” he said. “You have to look at overall salary expenses for the town.”
Town and city officials said overtime pay in 2014 was driven by snow emergencies and work associated with recovery efforts after superstorm Sandy. But overtime pay also can result from contract provisions that are, in some cases, years old, McMahon said.
In Oyster Bay, for example, sanitation workers hired before 1996 are required to receive a minimum amount of overtime pay, said Town Attorney Leonard Genova.
Hempstead and East Hampton towns had the lowest proportion of payroll going to overtime: 2.32 percent each. Hempstead paid $4.2 million in overtime in 2014; East Hampton, $570,059.
Total overtime Islandwide as a percentage of payroll fell for the second year in a row. Long Beach had the largest year-over-year drop, to 6.9 percent from 12.1 percent in 2013, a decrease Schnirman attributed primarily to fewer Sandy-related expenses.
Reliance on part-time workers varies
Towns and cities varied in how much they relied on part-time and seasonal workers. In Oyster Bay, nearly half of the 2,457 employees were full-time. In Long Beach, a quarter of its 1,625 workers were, according to city spokesman Gordon Tepper, citing numbers not made available for Newsday’s database. The city declined to identify which individual employees are full-time and which are part-time or seasonal.
Tepper attributed the high percentage of part-time workers to the large number of seasonal beach jobs. In Southampton, which also attracts many tourists and seasonal residents to its beaches, nearly 44 percent of employees were seasonal or part-time.
The number of full-time versus part-time positions influences towns’ and cities’ average pay. Southold employees were, on average, the highest-paid on Long Island. Their $55,902 average salary was more than two and a half times that of Babylon employees, who made an average of $20,643.