As Republican County Executive Edward Mangano struggles to close a budget deficit of $286 million next year, three high-ranking Nassau police officers are retiring with severance packages of more than $600,000 each under the county's retirement incentive program, which lifts a severance cap and offers an additional bonus.
County records obtained by Newsday show the highest package will go to retiring Chief of Patrol Robert Turk, whose base salary is $219,670. Turk will get an estimated $676,414 severance check - for unused sick and vacation time and other deferred compensation - after 37 years on the force. Another 37-year veteran, Deputy Commissioner Robert McGuigan, is estimated to receive the second highest severance of $671,740. McGuigan's base salary is $217,117.
The third retiring chief, Karen O'Callaghan, started working in her new job as Hofstra's public safety director on July 12, after a gala retirement party in June. But despite her full-time private job, she remains on the public payroll in Nassau at her $225,693 annual salary until Sept. 23, running out unused vacation time.
After 27 years on the force, O'Callaghan, a well-regarded chief of department, will receive a severance check of about $632,000 when she finally signs out.
Payouts make a push to retire
In comparison, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, with an annual salary of $206,180, earns less than all three Nassau chiefs.
"People on Long Island complain about their high property taxes," said Lise Bang-Jensen of the Empire Center in Albany. "You only need to look at these payouts."
Mangano proposed the incentive to persuade highly paid employees to retire in hopes of saving more than $20 million. For police, whose union contracts provide generous salaries and high termination pay, the incentive lifts a severance cap imposed by Mangano's predecessor, Democrat Thomas Suozzi, and pays an additional $1,500 a year for every year in service.
The county will pay the severance costs by borrowing. County officials would not estimate the total cost of the retirement program.
County officials say O'Callaghan is entitled to run out her unused vacation time under the terms of her union contract. "I'm on vacation," O'Callaghan said. "I'm on time the county would have to pay me for if I didn't run it out. To me it's analogous to somebody who works a second job." Hofstra said in a statement that O'Callaghan "fully disclosed all appropriate information to us during the hiring process."
What taxpayers must carry
Mangano blamed the previous administration for high police severance costs. "It's clear the prior administration entered contacts without considering residents' ability to pay," Mangano said in a statement. "Our system is broken and it's hurt taxpayers for too long."
Suozzi spokesman Bruce Nyman said, "It's already September. It's enough of blaming Suozzi. Ed wanted the job. Now do it."
Suozzi negotiated caps, effective July 1, 2009, on severance pay that prevented retiring officers from collecting more than the dollar amount equal to two times base salary plus longevity pay, shift differential and holiday pay, or about 19 percent.
If the limits were still in place, Turk and McGuigan's total payouts would be about $154,000 less, while O'Callaghan's would be about $95,000 lower.
Lifting the limits
But Mangano officials say lifting the cap encouraged police to retire and the county will save millions by not replacing any of the 125 officers leaving. Also, Mangano pointed out that the cap prompts officers to use their time, rather than bank it, resulting in greater overtime costs when other officers take over their duties. Mangano plans to avoid increased overtime after the 125 retire by reorganizing the department.
Suozzi in 2007 refused to allow three retiring chiefs to run out all their vacation time, instituting a 30-day limit. The three sued, citing the Superior Officers Association contract, which states that members contemplating retirement "shall have the right to use all of his/her accumulated [non-sick] time off."
One of those former chiefs, William Gutersloh, said the suit has yet to be resolved. "I'm hoping it will be," he said, declining to comment on O'Callaghan's situation.
County Attorney John Ciampoli said the county is close to settling.
Suffolk did not extend this year's retirement incentive program for county workers to its police department.
"These payouts are an incredible abuse that I've been fighting for several years and that is one of the reasons the police union continuously attacks me," said County Executive Steve Levy, through a spokesman.