Long Island's town and city workforce was paid $726.5 million last year — a jump of nearly $23.2 million or 3.3 percent from 2011.
That's $252.31 per resident of Nassau and Suffolk counties — an increase of $8.05 from the year before. The workforce of 20,782 full- and part-time employees — a decrease of 219 from the previous year — amounted to one for every 139 Long Island residents.
As in 2011, about 7 percent of the workforce of Long Island's 15 cities and towns — 1,408 employees — made $100,000 or more in 2012.
The high cost of public salaries translates into high tax bills, but also into the services, amenities and the suburban quality of life Long Islanders cherish, said Gary Burtless, a labor economist at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution.
"The question is, do people on Long Island prefer the amenities that they have as a result of spending a lot on government?" Burtless said. "There's always going to be a tug of war: Do we really want these amenities, or would we prefer lower taxes instead?"
The payroll and employment data have been compiled in a database available on newsday.com that allows users to search 2012 data from Long Island's 13 towns and two cities. Local municipal officials provided the data on employees, their titles and departments, and their 2012 pay, in response to Freedom of Information requests filed by Newsday reporters.
Newsday requested the payroll figures because of the critical role salaries play in municipal budgets, where personnel costs are typically the largest element.
Among all municipal workers nationally, the top 10 percent of earners made at least $82,090, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent on Long Island were paid $101,000, the bureau reported.
Management-level employment in Long Island's towns and cities is especially lucrative. Management employees were paid a median salary of $115,670 last year — more than $30,000 above the national median for local government management employees, according to the bureau.
Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia-based political consultant who works primarily with Republicans, said one of the reasons public salaries on Long Island are higher than the national average is the Island's high cost of living.
"If you're going to attract a quality person to work in government, they have to afford to live here," Dawidziak said. "Electricity's more expensive, housing's more expensive."
The Islandwide average for city and town worker salaries was $34,956.16, but the figure varied widely by town. The highest figure was Southold, with $52,232.60; the lowest was Babylon, with $21,704.53. Southold's figure grew from $51,143.63 in 2011, while Babylon's grew from $18,775.79.
Islip had the most residents per worker with 287.98; Shelter Island, the smallest town on Long Island, had the fewest, with 21.04.
Salaries of town supervisors — the top elected officials in the Island's 13 towns — ranged from $77,970, for Shelter Island's James Dougherty, to $158,543 for Huntington's Frank Petrone. Dougherty and Petrone also were the low and high earners in 2011. Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray was paid $150,741 last year, while Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio made $111,635.
Highlights from the findings include:
— Brookhaven dedicated the highest percentage of its payroll to overtime, with 11.37 percent. Lowest was East Hampton, with 1.78 percent.
— The top 10 city and town wage earners for 2012 were police — eight from Glen Cove and two from Long Beach.
— None of the top wage earners in the 13 towns was a town supervisor.
— Twenty-nine Long Beach police officers and detectives made more than Jack Schnirman, the city manager. Two made more than Michael Tangney, the police commissioner.
— Nine of the 10 highest-paid Brookhaven employees worked in the refuse and garbage departments, seven of them as construction equipment operators.