Group: More LI cops qualify for 6-figure pension

Officers during a graduation ceremony from the police

Officers during a graduation ceremony from the police academy in Brentwood. (June 10, 2011) (Credit: Ed Betz)

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One out of every six police officers and firefighters who retired from state and local agencies outside New York City last year qualified for an annual pension of greater than $100,000, according to a report released Wednesday.

The ratio was even higher in Nassau County, with 75 of 133 retirees qualifying, and Suffolk County, where 43 of 126 did, according to the report by Empire Center for New York State Policy. Statewide, 202 of 1,225 retirees qualified for pensions greater than $100,000.

The statewide figure also is an increase from 2011, when it was one in 10, said representatives from the organization, a wing of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank.

Empire Center released the data in part to show that the percentage of six-figure pensions among police and firefighters is much greater than for municipal workers in the larger Employee Retirement System, said Tim Hoefer, director of the Empire Center. Less than half a percent of 17,156 first-time ERS retirees qualified for six-figure pensions in 2012, he said.

"The defined pension system, is, in the long run, unaffordable," Hoefer said, adding that "the Nassau and Suffolk ratios blow the statewide ratio out of the water."

Police union officials on Long Island, including Suffolk PBA president Noel DiGerolamo, criticized the Empire Center report, saying police and firefighters retire with six-figure pensions only after working for decades.

"Pensions are not given out like candy -- they are earned, and they are earned over a period of 20, 30 and sometimes 40 years," DiGerolamo said.

James Carver, president of the Nassau PBA, said the rise in six-figure pensions is tied to the increase in departmental overtime, which was spurred by staffing reductions.

Nassau's overtime bill rose 14.7 percent to $97.5 million last year, compared with $85 million in 2011. Nassau police staff decreased from just over 2,700 in January 2009 to just over 2,200 now, Carver said. "This is a trend that is becoming more frequent due to the fact that police departments are not staffed to the point they used to be," he said.

Overtime currently plays a role in determining pension payments. But a new set of pension benefits for new employees, called Tier 6, increases the retirement age and the number of years an employee needs before becoming vested in the system, calculates final average salary over more years and prohibits the use of overtime to calculate annual pension benefits.

Empire Center also released the total values of the maximum allowable pension benefits for police and firefighters for state and local agencies around New York. The Empire Center retirement values are the maximum allowable benefits and not necessarily what a retiree will collect. Actual benefits can be less if a retiree withholds funds for their survivors.

Nassau County paid 3,484 retirees up to $226.1 million -- the highest figure in the state -- in fiscal 2012-2013, the center said, while Suffolk County was third, with 2,612 retirees earning up to $160.4 million.

With Yancey Roy, Paul LaRocco and Robert Brodsky

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