Nearly half of Nassau County's 2,400-member police force collected more than $150,000 last year, according to county records.
High overtime costs for some of the 1,103 active and retiring officers and large retirement packages for others helped boost earnings, statistics provided to Newsday by the county comptroller show.
The earnings revelations come at a time when the cost of public union contracts, particularly police pacts, has come under intense scrutiny as municipalities struggle to cope with recession-lowered revenues.
A state oversight board this week seized control of Nassau's finances in large part because County Executive Edward Mangano was unable to get millions of dollars in labor givebacks to balance his $2.6-billion budget.
Nassau's high pay is not sustainable, said E.J. McMahon, a senior fellow with the conservative Manhattan Institute. "That's the core of the problem."
The police pay statistics show:
690 officers topped $150,000 in base pay, overtime and other compensation, such as holiday pay and shift differential.
42 officers had base salaries that exceeded $150,000.
289 had overtime and base pay that added up to more than $150,000. Last year, two still-active police officers earned more than $100,000 apiece and 44 officers collected more than $50,000 in overtime.
At least 130 officers retired last year, many taking advantage of Mangano's temporary elimination of a cap that limited severance payouts. Three chiefs left with more than three-quarters of a million dollars each. About 20 other officers' total earnings exceeded their base pay, overtime and other compensation by at least $100,000 but it is unclear if they retired.
High base salaries
The earnings figures are from a list Nassau provided to Newsday of every police officer who took home at least $150,000 in salary, overtime, other compensation and severance in 2010.
Long Island's police are among the highest paid in the nation: base salaries average $116,361 in Nassau and $111,574 in Suffolk, before overtime, uniform allowance and other stipends are added. In Nassau alone, police department costs accounted for 27 percent of the total county budget in 2010.
In Suffolk County last year, 1,356 officers on a force of 2,576 collected more than $150,000, records show. Their earnings included a two-year retroactive contract payment and severance pay for officers who retired, said county officials.
Critics say mismanagement of the police department by Mangano, a Republican, allowed overtime to soar last year even as he lifted a cap on severance pay set by former Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi.
"It's ironic that Mangano claims that overtime is under control and that lifting Suozzi's cap on severance pay was a good thing. Both have cost the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars," said Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick).
Questioning work rules
Republican county officials blame the Suozzi administration for negotiating police work rules that have driven up overtime costs. "The very stringent work rules that are in place result in significantly higher costs to the county," said Comptroller George Maragos. "This is the big elephant in the room."
Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said work rules requiring a minimum number of officers to be on the streets date back to the early 1980s and keep the public safe.
Records show that the two highest overtime earners are police Officer Gary Renick, who received $111,508 in overtime with a $106,698 base salary and Officer Michael Lambert, who earned $102,970 in overtime compared with his base salary of $106,698. Carver said those officers are involved in overtime-heavy anti-drunken driving enforcement.
Mangano encouraged higher-paid officers to retire by temporarily eliminating the cap that limited severance to two-times base pay and also offered retirees $1,500 for every year of service.
The three retiring chiefs earning the highest amounts of all officers in 2010 were Chief of Patrol Robert Turk, who took home $876,078; Deputy Commissioner Robert McGuigan, who received $865,556; and Chief of Department Karen O'Callaghan who was paid $795,347.
With Stacey Altherr