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Long Beach payroll topped by retirees, police data show

Long Beach City Hall on West Chester Street

Long Beach City Hall on West Chester Street in Long Beach, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Long Beach’s top-paid employees last year were retirees, police and firefighters, a Newsday analysis of payroll data shows.

The top individuals were active police sergeants and employees who retired and collected accrued time payouts, records show.

The highest-paid person on the $41,080,578 payroll last year was retired police Lt. Benjamin Tayne, who received $439,134 in retirement payments of accrued sick and vacation time after leaving the force in 2015.

Tayne was also the top paid employee among all of Long Island’s town and city employees in 2016, data show. He was among five police lieutenants excluded from the city’s PBA union contract who are still eligible to collect lump sum retirement payouts.

The Long Beach 68-member police force was paid a total of $11.09 million in 2016, accounting for 27 percent of the payroll. Police also collected more than $1 million in overtime.

Police officers also represented the next five top city salaries, including Sgt. Lee Nielsen, who made $255,694, Detective Michael Bulik, who was paid $228,883, and Police Commissioner Michael Tangney, who received $228,496 in salary last year.

Long Beach paid $3,572,375 in overtime to 396 employees in 2016, records show. Overtime accounted for 8 percent of the city’s total payroll, which was about even with what the city paid in overtime in 2015. Long Beach also paid 48 retirees a total of $3,859,313.

Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman said the city nearly faced bankruptcy at the end of 2011 amid $2.5 million in police payouts that forced the previous administration to borrow to make payroll. The city switched to an arbitration system to spread payouts over multiple years, Schnirman said. The police department still has the option to take retirement payouts in one lump sum.

“There’s no doubt that we all appreciate the work of our first responders in police and fire and the important public safety role they serve,” Schnirman said. “We’ve made great strides to improve our finances, and the arbitration process was the first reform of the payout structure we’ve seen to curb these unaffordable payouts.”

Tangney has served as commissioner since 2012, when he retired as a lieutenant and spread out his payout of $312,883 annually over three years, rather than in a lump sum.

Long Beach officials said they are now better able to budget retirement payments for all employees over several years to lessen the burden on one-time payouts.

The city council approved a new Civil Service Employees Association contract in April that is expected to save the city $411,433 in the first year, officials said.

The Long Beach police union now has its contract decided by an arbitration award to reduce payouts for new employees once they retire and extend the payout period for existing employees who retire.

Neither the police union nor paid firefighters are working with a contract. The police contract ended in 2015 and firefighters have been without a contract since 2010.

Long Beach paid its 18 professional firefighters $2.8 million and seven paramedics $361,915 in 2016, records show.

The city’s paid fire department has pushed back against the city’s restructuring of the department to reduce paid positions in place of paramedics and supplemented by volunteer firefighters. Long Beach and Garden City are the only remaining departments with paid firefighters on Long Island. Firefighters have not sought arbitration.

“The city will continue to work to deliver the best service possible at the least cost to its taxpayers,” Schnirman said.

Elected Long Beach city council members were each paid $21,000 salaries. Schnirman received $173,204 as part of his city contract, making him the highest paid appointed executive among Long Island’s 13 townships and two cities, records show. Council members and Schnirman both declined raises for the past two years.

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