Four Long Island villages pay average salaries that rank among the 15 highest in the state for government employees, state comptroller data show.
In addition, seven governmental units on Long Island are among the top 15 in the state for average amount of pensions paid, the data show.
The pension and salary data do not include New York City employees or any local part-time or seasonal governmental employees who would not be eligible for a state pension. The information, which is public, was obtained from the state comptroller’s office through a Freedom of Information Law request.
You can find the payroll and pension databases, both for individuals and government bodies, at newsday.com/data.
The four villages — Kings Point, Oyster Bay Cove, Old Brookville and Sands Point — paid average annual salaries ranging from $137,210 in Sands Point to $160,451 in Kings Point.
Pay for judges in Long Island’s county courts surpassed that, with those in Nassau averaging $176,430 a year, about $10,000 more than their Suffolk peers.
The watchdogs at the Nassau Interim Finance Authority were also in the top 15, with an average salary of $135,472.
According to the pension data, Nassau and Suffolk counties have governments with the most former employees drawing pensions, and account for the largest total amount of pension payments in the state system.
The Hempstead Community Development Agency led the state in average pension benefit at $83,527, but it includes only two employees. Three of the top 15 from Long Island were villages — Kensington at $71,194, Sands Point at $63,346 and Old Brookville at $62,561.
Contrasting compensation for Long Island public-sector workers with their peers in similar counties outside New York, such as Maryland’s Montgomery County, shows that others manage to spend less, said E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany-based, fiscally conservative think tank.
However, comparing Long Island’s public pay with that of other parts of New York, such as Buffalo, provides a better perspective — after adjusting for the cost of living, said John A. Rizzo, a Stony Brook University economics professor and chief economist for the Long Island Association trade group.
And Rizzo noted the large number of lower-paid workers on Long Island, in the leisure and hospitality industry for example, can make the average private-sector pay appear misleadingly low.
In comparing public- to private-sector pay, “You can find examples that cut in both directions,” Rizzo said. Referring to government workers, he continued: “There is no systemic, consistent evidence that they are overpaid.”
McMahon compared Nassau and Suffolk to Montgomery, a wealthy Washington, D.C., suburb, as the three counties share similar policies, strong public unions and a high cost of living.
Yet Montgomery’s teachers “at every step of the salary scale . . . make 20 to 30 percent less than on Long Island,” he said.
Long Island teachers are among the country’s best paid, McMahon said. “Median teachers’ salaries are in the six figures, and that is not for somebody at the end of their career but in midcareer.”
For instance, the Mineola Union Free School District’s top pay — received by one teacher — is around $154,000, the data show.
Long Island’s police forces also won some of the highest pay in the nation through decades of binding arbitration, he said. “By suburban standards, you have large police forces at the county and at the local level — despite having large county forces.”
On average, Port Washington police, for instance, are paid $129,694, the data show.
Economists largely agree housing drives the cost of living.
Montgomery’s cost of living is less than Nassau’s but higher than Suffolk’s, according to Sperling’s Best Places, a data website. It pegs the Maryland county’s median home price at $414,400 and its cost of living at almost 43 percent higher than the U.S. average.
Nassau’s median home price is $479,400, and the cost of living is almost 61 percent above the U.S. average, Sperling’s says.
Comparable figures for Suffolk are $344,500 and just under 35 percent.
To Rizzo, however, the “most relevant” comparisons are made between large municipalities around the state.
A worker would need almost a $105,000 paycheck in Nassau’s Town of Hempstead to match $68,000 of compensation in Buffalo because the cost of living is so much lower upstate, he calculated.