The town’s top 10 highest earners in 2015 were all members of the Police Department — an occurrence that’s become a trend over the past several years.
At the top of the list were a detective and sergeant who retired last year. They were among four members in the department to do so.
“It was a very abnormal year. We’ve had a few abnormal years,” Police Chief Jim Hamilton said Friday. “Since July of 2012, we’ve hired 15 new officers, but we’ve lost even more. We have fewer officers than we’ve had in decades.”
The name, title, base salary and total pay of Rotterdam’s 10 highest-paid employees in 2015:
1. Christopher Foster, detective (retired), $66,160, $167,148
2. Willard Stearns Jr., sergeant (retired), $98,883, $156,647
3. Jason Murphy, lieutenant, $55,977, $146,798
4. James Hamilton, chief, $138,921, $145,094
5. Michael Brown, lieutenant, $106,082, $129,723
6. George Manikas, deputy chief, $122,736, $128,251
7. Jeffrey Collins, lieutenant, $96,927, $124,884
8. Richard Dunsmore, sergeant (retired), $66,694, $123,758
9. Steven Manikas, detective, $89,151, $119,027
10. Patricia Mahar, officer (retired), $32,039, $117,981
With five new officers hired in January, Hamilton said the department expects to have 40 officers by the time they graduate from the academy and two more retire this fall.
The chief said the department was aware of the coming retirements and budgeted for the buyouts, which totaled over $300,000 in 2015.
Like most other police departments, the cost of overtime also pushed several law enforcement personnel over the $100,000 mark.
“It’s really dependent on our staffing,” Hamilton said. “We have minimum staffing level, and the fewer officers we have drives the overtime we have.”
Hamilton said the split Town Board, which had four members until Jan. 1, often reached a 2-2 stalemate hiring new officers, which prevented them from appointing the officers they needed sooner. The department had budgeted for more full-time positions last year, but when they weren’t filled, he said the money was used to pay for the year’s extra overtime expenses.
Hamilton said he expects overtime expenses to decrease in 2017 as new officers aren’t at top-grade salaries.
“Obviously, that drives overtime up dramatically,” the police chief said. “[At 40 officers] we’re looking to maintain the staffing we have.”
Hamilton and Deputy Chief George Manikas also made the top 10 list, with 2015 salaries of $145,094 and $128,251 respectively.
Councilmen Joe Villano and Rick Larmour have been outspoken about their desire to reduce the Police Department’s payroll for the past few years.
Earlier this month, Villano said Hamilton makes significantly more than police chiefs in other municipalities with larger forces and higher crime rates.
Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox, who was appointed in July, was budgeted to make $119,750 in 2016, according to Albany’s budget. In January, The Gazette reported that Schenectady Police Chief Brian Kilcullen took home $134,393 in 2015.
Former town supervisor Harry Buffardi said the last contract that set the police chief and the deputy chief’s salaries and annual percent raise was made under his administration a few years ago.
“We set it according to the rate of increase that the PBA set,” Buffardi said Friday. “If you don’t do it that way, your underlings will end up making more than the promoted people. They will exceed their availability to overtime.
“It was what he made in prior years plus a percentage that’s tied to PBA’s increase,” Buffardi said of the chief’s high salary.
Hamilton said because pay rates are dependent on negotiations with municipalities, you can’t compare the salary of one to the other.
“There’s different benefits in every contract,” Hamilton said. “You can’t just look at that one number because you need to look at the entire package from holiday pay, education and longevity. . . . A lot of factors are taken into consideration.”
The town’s contracts with the chief and deputy chief are set to expire at the end of 2017.
“Most people in the country and state are lucky to get a pay increase of 2 [percent] or 3 percent on a yearly basis,” Larmour said Friday. “The way the Police Department’s contract is and the cost of living increase, they get an average raise of 15 percent each year.”
The town’s contract with the Police Benevolent Association for patrolmen expired in December. Hamilton said the department just started negotiations with the town and the PBA for the next contract this month.
“They should make decent money, I don’t have a problem with that at all,” Larmour said of Rotterdam’s police officials. “But, if we don’t get some give back in this next contract, our town is going to be in trouble because all the other departments in town have been just getting knocked down to nothing.”
Larmour said he hopes when the contract is negotiated, law enforcement officials are given a more reasonable annual raise, like 5 percent, to avoid salaries that are overinflated.
“They’re willing to try to put money toward the other departments that really need it, but the problem is, they want to give the police everything we have,” Larmour said. “You can’t do both, unless we want to go in debt and be bankrupt.
Hamilton said in recent years, the department has lost at least two employees to other law enforcement agencies who pay better than Rotterdam.
“It’s very expensive to train these officers, and it’s in our best interest to have a pay scale that’s comparable to other agencies,” he said. “It’s a very difficult job and we want to attract and keep the best employees that we can.”
Reach Gazette reporter Kate Seckinger at 395-3113, [email protected] or @KateSeckinger on Twitter.