Sheriffs dominate ranks of top earners in Suffolk
Correction officers dominated the list of highest-paid Suffolk County workers last year, with a jail warden leading the way with $417,031 in total pay, legislative budget officials said.
The top-earning police department official -- a division chief -- made $224,538, while a correction officer made the most overtime: $119,000. The figures were contained in the legislative budget review office's annual report on active workers' wages. Nearly 13,000 employees who were on the county payroll for at least part of 2013 earned a total of $963.3 million, representing a 2 percent increase over 2012.
Assistant Deputy County Executive Justin Meyers said a one-time arbitration award to the sheriff's correction officers union of $37 million, covering back pay from 2008 to 2010, was almost wholly to blame for the overall increase. He noted that the back pay drove up officers' 2013 salaries, which in turn increased their overtime rates.
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He noted that the opening of a new 440-bed jail in Yaphank last spring further inflated sheriff's pay through overtime.
Last year's top 25 wage earners all were in the correction officers union. They included the warden who earned $417,031 between salary, overtime and the arbitration award, two deputy wardens paid more than $300,000 each, and a correction officer who made $225,974.
Of the top 100 active earners in county government, 63 were sheriff's department employees. The rest were in the Suffolk Police Department, led by the $224,538 division chief and a $223,178 chief inspector.
The correction officer who topped the list in overtime earnings, with $119,141, was among four sheriff's employees who each earned more than $102,000 in overtime alone.
The budget review office report listed job titles and departments, but no employee names.
Sheriff's Chief Michael Sharkey said attrition continues to strain the correction staff.
"The bottom line is that when it comes to corrections officers, there's a defined amount of posts that have to be covered," said Sharkey, citing state mandates for jail staffing. "We're trying to keep pace."
Suffolk's budget authorizes 982 correction positions; 902 are filled. The sheriff's department hopes to hire 40 correction officers next month, which Meyers said will make up for attrition and retirements. "We do not need more corrections officers," he said. "Staff levels are where they need to be right now."
The 222 sheriff's employees on the list of the top 300 earners averaged $59,550 each in 2013 overtime. Legislative Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he believes that figure will come down as the staff is replenished.
"There's no 'doing more with less,' " Gregory said of jail staffing. "You don't want the prisoners guarding themselves."
Nassau County does not publish a list of its top-earning employees, but a December report by its budget staff projected it would spend $797.7 million in salaries in 2013. The county has about 7,300 employees.
With Robert Brodsky