Schenectady, with a police force of 160, pays its current chief $123,000, with some add-on benefits.
Albany, with a force of about 260, pays its chief about $104,000 before benefits.
Chiefs’ earnings for 2008 varied greatly across more than a dozen municipal departments surveyed in Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, Montgomery and Fulton counties, with no apparent correlation between earnings and the department’s size or municipal population.
Take Rotterdam. In addition to earning a $114,364 base salary in 2008, Police Chief James Hamilton cashed in $26,380 worth of comp time he accumulated prior to becoming chief. He also gets a $900 uniform allowance. So Hamilton earned $141,644 in gross pay for running the 45-member department last year.
That easily topped the $123,738 gross earnings of Mark Chaires, the new chief of the 160-member force in Schenectady.
The lowest earning police chiefs came from Fulton County. Johnstown Police Chief Greg Horning, who oversees the city’s 25-member department, collected a gross salary of $66,266, while Gloversville’s first-year Chief Edgar Beaudin made $82,707 overseeing his 33 officers last year.
The devil is in the details.
Part of the reason for Hamilton’s salary was a buyout he received for comp time accumulated before he become chief in 2001. Prior to this year, the chief said he never touched the time accumulated since he joined the force in 1989.
Hamilton was only 34 years old when he became chief of the Rotterdam Police Department in 2001. At the time he earned $85,000 as the youngest Rotterdam chief ever.
“It’s the most I’ve ever made,” he said Friday of his 2008 earnings. “And it’s probably the most I’ll ever make.”
Johnstown’s Horning was surprised to learn he was among the Capital Region’s lowest paid chiefs. The veteran of 30 years on the force said the City Council makes the call.
“By the same token, you have to look around the community to what professionals in Johnstown are making,” he said.
But that is not always reliable either.
For instance, Albany Police Chief James Tuffey’s base pay of $103,954 is only a few hundred dollars more than the salary of Colonie Police Chief Steven Heider. But Tuffey oversees the area’s largest city police force with 258 officers, while Heider presides over a department of 104 officers. Albany has an estimated population of 94,000 people while Colonie is home to about 79,000 people but has no chronic areas of serious poverty and crime.
The salary discrepancies are based more on the pay rates included in the contract for rank-and-file officers, explained John Grebert, the executive director of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police. Without examining the salaries of the officers, he said it’s difficult to make comparisons about their chiefs.
“It’s really the base salaries of the members in the bargaining unit,” he said. “The size of the department does not usually play a big role in it.”
Rotterdam Supervisor Steve Tommasone agreed. He said comparing chief salaries is almost impossible due to factors ranging from differences in health benefits to differences in duties.
He said Hamilton often serves as a liaison between Rotterdam’s emergency services. In contrast, cities like Schenectady and Albany have professional fire departments that rely on a fire chief or emergency coordinators.
“There are other responsibilities that the police chief in Rotterdam has undertaken,” he said. “You have to look beyond just the dollars and beyond the number of years the person has had and look more at the breadth of their experience.”
And local policies vary. For example, Rotterdam allows Hamilton to cash in compensation time he earned over the course of more than a decade as a uniformed officer.
Schenectady once allowed their police chief to cash in all accumulated time at once. The policy was changed after former Chief Greg Kaczmarek — now doing two years in prison on a drug plea — earned $158,981, which was more than $50,000 over his base salary. He did so by cashing in all of his accumulated time during his last year in charge.
“That is exactly what we’re trying to avoid now,” said Ismat Alam, Schenectady finance director.
Schenectady’s new police chief agreed to stagger cashing in time over a three- or four-year period. Chaires’ annual salary, absent the added time, is $115,000.
RANK AND FILE CONTRACTS
In some cases, police chiefs can also receive pay increases when a collective bargaining unit gets a raise totaling more than $1,000 a year. Under state law, Grebert said, those chiefs are entitled to an identical bump in pay.
“The reason for this is to maintain a salary difference between the jobs with the highest responsibilities to some of the subordinates,” he said. “It just makes sense.”
The automatic raise has caused strife in Niskayuna, where Police Chief Lewis Moskowitz is arguing the town owes him as much as $10,000 over the life of the most recent two-year police contract. Last month he filed a lawsuit against the town asking for a judge to review his salary. Calls placed to his attorney were not returned. His salary for 2009 is more than $92,000, according to a recent report.
Under Rotterdam’s recently ratified police contract, the chief is technically entitled to a raise of roughly $5,000. The department’s lieutenants received a $2,500 salary bump and 4 percent raise in 2008, according to the agreement.
But Hamilton said the raise is not part of his contract with the town, which extends through 2011. And because he’s part of a bargaining unit with the deputy chief, he said the extra pay wouldn’t come automatically.
“I’m not entitled to that benefit,” he said. “It’s my understanding that it doesn’t apply.”