Every year, Newsday takes on an important project — making public the payrolls of Long Island’s 13 towns and two cities. The work is tedious, and requests for data are not always greeted with enthusiasm. Newsday’s reporters and editors are to be commended for the effort they’ve devoted to this endeavor for the past five years.
It’s important information. Personnel costs are the main driver of municipal budgets — especially with school districts, which were not included in this analysis — and taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent. The numbers on Newsday’s website, for example, underscore the cost of policing in the five towns and two cities with their own forces. The 56 highest-paid employees in Southampton — and 73 of the top 74 — are on the police force. It’s the top 36 in Glen Cove, the 30 highest in Riverhead, and 39 of the top 43 in Long Beach. And village payrolls, examined by Newsday for the second year, show that 291 of the 300 highest-paid village employees islandwide are police officers.
But the numbers also are important for the trends they reveal, and the 2015 payrolls tell a good story:
The property tax cap is working.
Total payrolls for the 15 towns and cities since the cap was passed in 2011 have risen all of 7 percent — from $698 million to $747 million — an average of 1.75 percent a year. The increase is a little lower than the cap allowance over those four years.
Remember that fact when you hear state legislators proposing to tweak the cap to help governments and school districts now struggling to stay within it. The discipline enforced by the cap has helped Long Islanders who also are struggling in a still-sluggish economy.
And as most municipalities continue to seek cuts and efficiencies to avoid the political consequences of busting the cap, we expect that the numbers collected by Newsday next year will tell another happy tale.
— The editorial board