Long Island’s towns and cities spent nearly $1.9 million less on overall payroll costs in 2016 than the year before, with overtime payouts decreasing almost $6 million Islandwide as well, a Newsday analysis of municipal records shows.
Payroll and overtime spending remained relatively stable in 2016 among Long Island’s 13 towns and two cities, the review of payroll records from 2011 to last year found.
Islandwide, total payroll costs for the towns and cities decreased to $746,023,645 in 2016 from $747,968,873 in 2015. The downturn in 2016 follows three straight years of increased payroll spending, including a 3 percent jump from 2014 to 2015.
Overtime spending among the municipal governments decreased more than 15 percent from 2015 to 2016, to $35 million from $41 million. But overtime costs had risen nearly 17 percent from 2014 to 2015, which officials blamed on a severe winter in 2015 that required plowing crews to work more.
The town and city workforce in 2016 was at its lowest in the past six years, when Newsday first started tracking data of municipal government’s employment and payroll costs. Last year’s total town and city workforce was at 20,137 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, the data show.
Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Albany-based Empire Center for Public Policy, a fiscally conservative think tank, said “one year doesn’t make a trend,” and payroll spending and workforce size may rise again in 2017.
But he said he hopes the lower payroll costs are a sign that municipalities “are starting to respond to pressure from their citizens” to tighten the reins on spending.
“This is all about long-term trending, and during the budget process making sure you’re being thoughtful and forward-looking, and past-looking, to know what history has taught us and what the trends are going to tell us about what’s going to come up through the year,” he said.
Newsday reviewed payroll spreadsheets provided by the towns and cities. However, some municipal governments count overtime figures differently than others, which affects comparisons of the data.
On average, the towns and cities last year paid 8.4 percent of their workers more than $100,000 — in some cases including retirement payouts and overtime compensation. Southold paid the highest percentage of its employees a six-figure salary, at 17.4 percent, or 58 of its 333-person workforce, according to a Newsday analysis. The Town of Islip, at the lowest, paid 1.5 percent, or 24 of its 1,630 employees, more than $100,000.
The Town of Hempstead, the Island’s most populous town, had the highest 2016 payroll, at $178 million for 4,161 employees. Shelter Island, which has about 2,400 residents and 129 employees, again had the smallest payroll — $4.8 million in 2016 — of the Island’s towns and cities.
The Town of Brookhaven, which is the second-largest town on Long Island, paid the most overtime for the fourth year in a row, at 9.07 percent of its $72,496,840 payroll, or $6,575,854 in 2016. Only 1.2 percent of Hempstead’s payroll went to overtime.
Hoefer of the Empire Center said each municipality has different overtime needs.
“Certainly there are scenarios in police work and in emergency services where you want those people available and don’t want to shut the door on people being able to work overtime,” he said.
The problem, Hoefer said, is when employees accumulate a large amount of overtime year after year, an indication that it would be more cost-efficient for a municipality to hire more full-time workers.
The Town of Southold had the highest average pay last year, at $58,429 — more than $20,000 higher than the Islandwide average. Southold has paid its employees, on average, higher wages than any other town or city government on Long Island since 2011.
The Town of Babylon, on the other hand, has paid its staff the least amount in average pay since 2011, with $23,179 in 2016.
Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman, who is appointed rather than elected to his position, was paid $174,084 in 2016, the highest of any Long Island municipal leaders. Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone received $163,680, which was the top pay for elected supervisors.
Former Long Beach Lt. Benjamin Tayne was paid $439,134 in retirement payments in 2016, which was the highest figure on any municipal town or city government’s payroll on Long Island. Tayne retired in 2015.
Southampton Town police Detective Steven De Marco received the most overtime Islandwide in 2016, making $83,592 on top of his base $127,278 salary for a total of $226,602.
Stories about individual town and city payrolls will appear in Newsday over the next seven weekdays. Or go to newsday.com to read the stories and newsday.com/payrolls to see the salary databases.
— With David Olson
Editor's note: Newsday detected errors in material provided by three towns about their 2016 payroll data -- Islip, Riverhead and Southampton. This story has been updated to reflect the corrected data.