By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY Local governments in New York had a nearly 9 percent increase in full and part-time employees in the past fiscal year, but the average salary dropped, a report Thursday found.
The dichotomy suggested that local governments may be hiring workers, but they are being paid less and government is relying more on part-time help, the report from the Empire Center for New York State Policy found.
There's also more higher-paid workers in local governments outside New York City, the report said. The number of workers earning more than $100,000 between April 2012 and March 2013 increased nearly 5 percent to 17,224 compared to the previous fiscal year.
The average salary for workers in county, city, town and village offices dropped last year: from $55,431 to $52,207.
Tim Hoefer, the group's executive director, said the data showed how taxpayer money is being spent.
"As a taxpayer, I'm concerned about what is my tax base and where is that money going and what is it for," Hoefer said.
The numbers, however, paint only a portion of the full picture. The data reviewed from the state pension system includes all full and part-time workers who were enrolled in the pension system at some point in the year, a total of 179,806. So it's hard to gauge whether more workers are part time or simply making less as full-time workers, Hoefer said.
In fact, statistics from the state Labor Department last week showed that employment losses in the government sector totaled 9,500 over the past year, second only to the loss among manufacturing jobs. The majority of the job losses occurred at the local level, a total of 4,900 cuts, as well as 2,600 cuts at local hospitals.
The highest-paid employee in local government was George Gatta, Jr., a vice president at Suffolk County Community College who collected $359,632 before retiring in February.
Sixteen of the state's 20 highest-paid local employees were police officers, including a dozen members in Nassau County. Two Westchester County corrections officers ranked fifth and sixth -- Eric Middleton at $277,339 and Stanford Brown at $276,562.
In four out of seven upstate regions, the highest-paid employees were psychiatrists working for county mental-health programs, including Odysseus Adamides in Wayne County at $249,896 and Mary Nobilski in Steuben County at $215,531.
Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the state's largest public-sector union, said the average salary for its members is about $40,000 a year -- and they pay a portion of their health care and retirement costs.
"You can always pick out extreme cases," he said.
Yonkers had the highest average salary among cities outside New York City at $68,786. Westchester County had the highest average salary among counties at $80,322.
Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said the city has cut positions in recent years. He said the higher salaries are in part a result of the higher cost of living in the Hudson Valley compared to other parts of the state.
Also, he said the salaries show that laws need to be changed to limit the cost of employees on strained local governments. He said all the city's union contracts expired five years ago, but increases can continue under the state's Triborough Amendment.
"Every municipality, including obviously ours, in this state is facing the high cost of labor. We cannot afford it. We cannot sustain it," Spano said.
Westchester County spokesman Ned McCormack said the state has refused to reform the Triborough Amendment, which allows union contracts to continue after they expire. He said County Executive Robert Astorino has renegotiated five contracts that require health-care payments for some union workers, saving about $130 million a year.
"We have this structural problems with our labor force in New York," McCormack said. "It doesn't leave us a lot of options."
To view the report, visit: http://www.empirecenter.org/AboutUs/news_releases/2013/08/whattheymake2012-13.cfm