AMSTERDAM — Staffing shortages among Amsterdam police and the return to six-person minimum shifts among city fire crews contributed to increased overtime costs last year, and thus first responders being the city’s top earners, according to Mayor Michael Cinquanti.
The 10 highest-paid employees in 2022 were all high-ranking members of the Amsterdam Police and Fire Departments earning above their base pay, according to salary data obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request.
“If you look at most municipal budgets, you’ll find the same thing,” Cinquanti said. “Folks in the public safety business do earn the highest salaries, because they have the type of benefits to keep them safe, healthy and happy in the extremely stressful positions they serve.”
The seven highest-paid employees, all members of city police, each received gross pay more than $20,000 over their base salary.
Police Chief John Thomas was the top earner last year bringing home $164,333.18, which is 22% above his $135,252 base salary. Seventh on the list was Lt. Joseph Spencer with a total pay of $116,810.38, 26% above his $92,595.28 base salary.
City officials largely attributed the additional compensation received by police to overtime pay required to cover the absences of three officers on extended medical leaves and lateral transfers made by two members to other agencies over the course of the year.
“We were still short staffed for the majority of last year,” said Spencer, who is the police department’s public information officer.
The department had a recruit go through training early last year and two additional prospects are attending police academy now to fill openings. A Civil Service exam was given last year and a physical fitness test will be held later this month to vet candidates for future vacancies.
City police anticipate at least one retirement this year and it’s possible further retirements could come from among the three members still out on medical leaves.
Still, Spencer said the new hires and potential for further recruitment should help bolster police staffing levels to mitigate overtime costs, which have been elevated for the last two years.
“We are a little short, but we are moving in a positive direction for staffing,” Spencer said. “All departments are feeling that squeeze and we’re dedicated to vetting people that want to serve the city of Amsterdam. They make a competitive wage based on the area we live in.”
Personal time buybacks and other contractual benefits further elevated overall compensation for both police and firefighters. In particular, Thomas has accrued a substantial amount of vacation time over his career that he is gradually cashing out instead of seeking a single lump sum when he eventually retires, according to Cinquanti.
“It’s good for the city that the police chief is spreading it out and taking it earlier rather than waiting until he leaves,” Cinquanti said. “This is not because he is planning to retire, he is doing it to make it more fiscally flexible for the city.”
Three firefighters filled the final spots on the list of the city’s highest paid employees. Battalion Chief Ronald Jablonski was eighth bringing home $111,570.95, which is 56% above his base pay of $71,504.60.
Fire Chief Anthony Agresta was last on the list after earning a total of $111,053.82, 13% above his base salary of $98,626.68.
Aside from personal time buybacks and other contractual benefits, Cinquanti said additional compensation for firefighters was largely based on overtime costs associated with backfilling call-outs and other absences to meet reinstated six-person minimum staffing levels.
Minimum staffing levels were reduced to five firefighters per shift by former Mayor Michael Villa in 2017 after the city’s $8 million accumulated budget deficit was discovered. Afterwards, the fire union constantly urged officials to reinstate the six-person minimum to ensure the safety of crew members and residents.
Pressure mounted in November 2021 after low staffing led the department to miss a pair of calls that were ultimately handled by the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Officials agreed additional manpower was needed based on rising call volumes and six-person minimum shifts were reinstated a month later.
“We knew it would increase the costs of overtime,” Cinquanti said.
However, the mayor said the departmental overtime costs were surpassed by revenue generated by ambulance services being provided by city fire crews. The already growing income stream was accelerated by last year’s launch of a second ambulance paid for with state grants.
The additional ambulance is only put into service when there are sufficient numbers of staff on duty without calling in any unscheduled members.
“We’re only running the second ambulance if we have shift strength at a level where the chief feels running the second ambulance is possible. It’s happened enough this year that revenue has been significant and it will continue to happen in the future,” Cinquanti said.
Still, Cinquanti said the city is exploring further options to strengthen staffing levels while controlling overtime costs for police and fire crews during ongoing contract negotiations.
“We’re hoping actions we’re taking now will help us keep overtime costs in the future down and we’re budgeting for them,” Cinquanti said.
Neither Thomas nor Agresta responded to requests for comment for this story.
Amsterdam’s 10 highest paid employees for 2022:
Police Chief John Thomas — total pay: $164,333.18 — base salary: $135,252
Lt. Salvatore Megna — total pay: $138,584.69 — base salary: $102,044.82
Sgt. Jacob Gifford — total pay: $123,199.66 — base salary: $94,899.47
Sgt. Michael Malatino — total pay: $122,339.35 — base salary: $93,366.81
Det. Corridon Lapati — total pay: $121,643.43 — base salary: $94,899.47
Sgt. Keelan Zyzes — total pay: $118,523.08 — base salary: $91,316.80
Lt. Joseph Spencer — $116,810.38 — base salary: $92,595.28
Battalion Chief Ronald Jablonski — total pay: $111,570.95 — base salary: $71,504.60
Battalion Chief Jeffery Urbanczyk — total pay: $111,069.34 — base salary: $71,504.60
Fire Chief Anthony Agresta — total pay: $111,053.82 — base salary: $98,626.68
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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