If there’s any wonder that pensions are costing New Yorkers a pretty penny and threatening municipalities all across the state, a look at the numbers drives home the point.
While it’s our presumption that the pensions were earned legitimately through the labors of their recipients, the sizes of the biggest payouts are telling and the public has a right to this vital information.
A list of the 100 highest pensions was published Monday by Empire Center for New York State Policy, a public policy organization. At the top were George Philip, formerly of the New York State Teachers Retirement System at $261,037; Francis Lombardi, formerly of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at $214,165; and Cheryl Schatmeyer, who worked for Westchester Health Care Corp., with $206,052.
Roughly 10 percent of police and firefighters throughout the state (excluding New York City), or 95 out of 933, who retired in 2011 qualified for a yearly six-figure pension, according to the Empire Center, which compiled data from the New York State Employee Retirement System and the State Police and Fire Retirement System, which is made up of 367,806 local and state workers. Scattered throughout the list were police, corrections and firefighters from the Hudson Valley, notably Clarkstown and Yonkers, and Long Island (where fire departments are volunteer) who were in some cases collecting two or three times the $60,798 average police and fire system. The average for those in the New York State Retirement System is $25,721.
Peter Noonan, a retired Clarkstown police chief, was No. 7 on the list with an annual $193,892 pension; Gerardo Gizzo, a retired Westchester County cop, ranked 14 with $183,213; and Gerald Curtis, a retired Yonkers police captain, receives $175,424 and was No. 19 on this year’s list.
On Long Island, Dvorah Balsam of Nassau Health Care Corp. ranked eighth with a $191,848 pension and Stanley Klimberg of Long Island Power Authority 12th with $188,669.
That’s per year, and unlike the private sector, it’s not taxable by New York State. When you consider that a retirement can last for decades, those generous pensions can add up.
While the overall numbers dipped in recent years when retirement incentives were offered to workers, they are still three times higher than a decade ago, further proof that ballooning pension obligations may come at the expense of local services.
Recent pension reforms won’t translate into significant savings for years, maybe decades.
And, in some cases, those benefits are higher than the worker’s actual salary and far more expensive than putting a person on the job.
Meanwhile, the Empire Center is appealing a court decision that upheld New York City’s Police Pension Fund’s claim that retirees are entitled to the same confidentiality as their designated beneficiaries. A bill recently passed in the Assembly sought to clarify the distinction but must still be approved by the Senate.
To see the Empire Center's list of Top 100, click here.