Overall payroll costs among Long Island’s towns and cities decreased by more than $12 million in 2017 although overtime spending ticked up by less than 1 percent, according to Newsday’s annual analysis of municipal data.
The payroll costs represent the second consecutive year of tighter spending from year to year, according to figures from 2011 to 2017.
Islandwide payroll spending went from $748 million in 2015 to $746 million in 2016 to $733 million in 2017. That trend follows three straight years of increased payroll spending from 2013 to 2015.
Overtime spending Islandwide increased 0.88 percent from 2016 to 2017, the data show. Municipal governments spent $41 million — 5.51 percent of their payroll costs — on overtime in 2015. In 2016, overtime spending decreased to $35,027,403 but rose to $35,336,401 in 2017.
The town and city workforce decreased 1.12 percent to 19,911 in 2017 from 20,137 full-time, part-time and season employees in 2016, according to the data.
Newsday analyzed payroll spreadsheets provided by the governments of Long Island’s 13 towns and two cities. Some municipal governments count overtime figures differently than others, which could affect comparisons of the data.
Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Albany-based Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank, said it’s best to look at the 2017 data over the long term.
For example, while the 2017 payrolls are down compared to 2016, they are still up by more than $30 million overall from 2011. In the same period, data shows municipal staffs decreased by more than 1,000 employees Islandwide. The change represents a 4.3 percent increase over six years.
Hoefer said town and city governments need to undertake long-term financial planning that looks at “not just next year but five years down the road.”
“I think it’s about whether you’re matching your community’s wants and needs and desires with their ability” to afford it, he said.
The average town or city worker pay Islandwide decreased 0.53 percent, to $36,850 in 2017 from $37,047 in 2016.
That figure includes a range of employees and their pay, from part-time, hourly lifeguards to executives with six-figure salaries and full-time employees who accrue thousands of dollars in overtime. And some towns in recent years have offered retirement incentives and buyouts, which remain on the payroll through the life of the payout but remove the salaries — often relatively high because of the employees’ longevity — from future years’ payrolls.
The Town of Babylon again had the lowest average town worker pay, with a total average pay of $23,233 in 2017. Southold’s workers also again were paid the most, with an average of $57,063 in total annual pay last year, the data show.
The cities’ and towns’ governments paid, on average, $1,774.72 in overtime per employee in 2017. Brookhaven’s average was the highest, at $2,889, while Hempstead’s was the lowest with $366.
Hempstead — Long Island’s largest town by population — had 3,921 employees in 2017, again the highest number of employees compared with the other towns and cities. And Hempstead again had the highest payroll — $176 million — of all the municipal governments. It has held those two top spots since Newsday started compiling payroll in 2011.
Shelter Island, the smallest town on Long Island with 2,800 residents, last year had 145 town employees and a $4.86 million payroll, also the lowest overall Islandwide since 2011.
Brookhaven, for the fifth year in a row, paid the most overtime among towns and cities in 2017, at $5.88 million.
Hoefer said that generally, if municipalities are trimming their workforces in an effort to decrease their budgets but their overtime costs are going up in response, they may not have accomplished what they wanted in reducing payroll expenses.
While payroll data isn’t often readily available to residents, Hoefer said, “we need to have access to this information as taxpayers, to decide if the government is doing a good job with our tax dollars.”