Report: Power Authority Spent $400k on Pilots, Aviation Director

11:08 AM, Aug 10, 2013   |    comments
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NEW YORK - You may not care what the New York Power Authority does with its money.

It's not an entity funded by taxpayers. You don't even pay your electric bill directly to NYPA. But its roots trace back to 1931, when then-New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the authority to make cheap power to sell to businesses and keep rates as low as possible for New Yorkers.

Except 82 years later, citizens in this state pay more for their electricity than just about anybody in the United States.

And according to an audit released by comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Thursday, the very authority designed to keep those rates down is spending its own money on six-figure salaries for one-third of its employees, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars for pilots and aviation costs.

"New Yorkers pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country," comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement, "and need the rate relief that NYPA could provide if it appropriately focused its resources."

WEB EXTRA: Read the audit by clicking here.

Reports this summer have confirmed DiNapoli's claim. On average, New Yorkers' bills are more than 50 percent higher than the rest of the country. George Maziarz, a Senate Republican in New York and the chairman of the Energy Committee, said the audit may prompt a committee meeting to examine the audit's key claims.  

"It makes me extremely mad," Maziarz said.  "I'm very disappointed."

According to the audit, 34.8 percent of the 1,636 NYPA employees make more than $100,000. The audit mentions that in other public authorities in the state, an average of 14 percent of the staffs reel in a six-figure salary. About eight percent of state employees make that kind of money.

The amount of employees with six-figure salaries has also tripled since 2006, when the Syracuse-Post Standard investigated NYPA and found that about 12.5 percent of employees earned more than $100,000.

Overall, during fiscal year 2012, the audit shows that 570 employees received that salary.

"NYPA salaries are comparable to other large public power utilities in the U.S., but significantly lower than investor-owned electric utilities in New York State," the statement read in part. "NYPA must pay competitive salaries in order to attract and retain qualified personnel to run its highly technical and complex generation and transmission facilities."

Maziarz sees it differently.

"I think it's way out of line with the private sector," Maziarz said.

In addition to the salaries, the audit also criticized NYPA for spending close to $398,583 during fiscal year 2012 for three full-time pilots and a "director of aviation." In 2001, another audit by the state comptroller's office suggested the authority was wasting money by using a private plane and could cut costs by flying commercially. NYPA disputed that claim 12 years ago, and on Thursday, it again defended its use of a plane and the payments to those who operate it.

"The NYPA plane has been of great value for transporting personnel to hard-to-get-to NYPA locations such as our large hydroelectric power plant, transmission lines and substations in Northern New York and for quickly dispatching engineering personnel in case of facility emergencies," the statement reads.

The audit also said NYPA spent $155,865 for two temporary staff positions in the travel department.

Maziarz admits a plane is useful for the authority, but he considers the spending excessive.  

"I had no idea they had a director of aviation or were spending this much money on airplanes. That's ridiculous," Maziarz said. "Spending 400K on aviation is just unacceptable, and I'm sure it's going to be unacceptable to the governor and I know it's going to be upsetting to my colleagues."

Below is the full statement from NYPA in response to the comptroller's audit:

"The State Comptroller's report misinterprets key facts and ignores reforms that the New York Power Authority has instituted over the last two and a half years. If they had contacted us at any time during this process, we would have been glad to clear up these misconceptions.

NYPA makes the following points in response to the Comptroller's report and press release:

--Contrary to the report, NYPA's low power rates are unaffected by its financial contributions to New York State. The contributions have been significantly reduced since 2011 and have become more predictable going forward.  Such contributions are not unique to NYPA. Other public power utilities around the country, including JEA (Northeast Florida), Salt River Project (Phoenix, Ariz), Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and CPS Energy (San Antonio, Texas), have been among those that have made contributions in their jurisdictions. 

--NYPA has a small eight-seat prop plane-not a jet.  The plane is used by NYPA engineers and operating personnel in monitoring, maintaining and upgrading the Authority's 16 power plants, more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines and 14 large substations across the state-and only after a cost-benefit analysis of other modes of travel before each flight. The NYPA plane has been of great value for transporting personnel to hard-to-get-to NYPA locations such as our large hydroelectric power plant, transmission lines and substations in Northern New York and for quickly dispatching engineering personnel in case of facility emergencies.     

--The NYPA Travel Desk enforces government-rate fares for all employees and contractors and anyone who does business with NYPA. This ensures we have the most cost-effective travel arrangements and adhere to NYPA's travel policies and procedures.

--NYPA salaries are comparable to other large public power utilities in the U.S., but significantly lower than investor-owned electric utilities in New York State.  NYPA must pay competitive salaries in order to attract and retain qualified personnel to run its highly technical and complex generation and transmission facilities.

--NYPA offers the lowest cost power in New York State to its customers, including businesses that commit to create and protect jobs."

 

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