The top 10
Nearly half the Rotterdam police force earned six-figure salaries in 2013, easily making them the town’s highest paid employees.
In total, 19 of the 42 sworn officers employed by the town topped $100,000 in gross pay last year, including nine who made more than $120,000 and one — Sgt. Robert Denny — who made more than $200,000. Denny, who retired in 2013, topped Rotterdam’s highest-paid employees with a salary of $202,192, according to figures provided by the town this week.
The large police salaries, however, are somewhat of an anomaly caused by the settlement of a protracted contractual dispute resolved between the town and the Rotterdam Police Benevolent Association. The police union inked a new contract with the town in June, which granted it 2 percent retroactive pay raises in 2011, 2012 and half of 2013.
A look at Rotterdam’s top 10 gross salaries (all are with the Police Department):
1. Sgt. Robert Denny (retired) $202,192.88
2. Lt. Thomas Culbert $155,917.18
3. Chief James Hamilton $142,866.97
4. Deputy Chief Bill Manikas $136,142.59
5. Officer Mark Vancourt $131,833.73
6. Lt. Jason Murphy $129,927.56
7. Lt. Michael Brown $128,898.67
8. Officer Christopher Foster $125,311.49
9. Sgt. Robert Dufek $122,108.32
10. Sgt. Jeffrey Collins $110,026.74
Police Chief James Hamilton and Deputy Chief William Manikas said the retroactive raises over 21⁄2 years were lumped in with the officers’ regular pay, thus inflating the pay scale for all officers included in the collective bargaining unit. In addition, the new contract retroactively increased longevity pay for officers and bolstered the cost of added pay, such as overtime or holiday wages, during the same period of time.
“It’s certainly an anomaly when you look at the gross salaries,” Manikas said Tuesday.
The only other town workers earning nearly as much as the police in 2013 were Town Attorney Kate McGuirl and Rick Fowler, the town’s veteran road maintenance supervisor. Fowler grossed $84,320 in pay and McGuirl earned $80,599, representing the only non-police workers in the town to earn more than $75,000.
Manikas also noted the Police Department has contended with two consecutive years with intensive investigations that have inflated overtime. Investigators with the department’s detective division logged roughly 300 hours of overtime while probing a double homicide in the town’s Coldbrook neighborhood in April. The patrol division also logged substantial overtime, totaling about 48 hours during the murder investigation.
The investigation into the brutal deaths of 22-year-old Jessica McCormack and her mother, 52-year-old Tammy McCormack, led to the arrest of Brice Rivenburgh, 29, the day after the bodies were found inside their ransacked Inner Drive home. Rivenburgh later admitted to killing both women and was sentenced to serve up to life in prison.
The town also had to retroactively pay added overtime costs from a 2012 bombing investigation by the Police Department. In that case, Rotterdam police worked about 215 hours of overtime before arresting four people in connection with a series of bombings that occurred at a residence in the town’s Highbridge neighborhood between March and April 2012.
Rotterdam police represent the largest percentage of the town’s general fund spending annually. The department was allotted $5.59 million in 2013 and accounts for roughly a quarter of the $21.5 million budget.
When the police contract was settled in June, town officials indicated it would cost taxpayers an additional $199,000 in retroactive pay raises. The town achieved savings by having union members pay 15 percent of their health care premiums and capping their ability to bank compensatory time at 120 hours per year.
Supervisor Harry Buffardi said the expense from the augmented police salaries forced the town to make a number of cuts during the budgeting process last year, since nothing was set aside to contend with retroactive raises. He said a mandatory staffing level existing in the police contract prevents the town from reducing the size of the police force, leaving few areas where its funding stream can be reduced.
The town’s paramedic program, which previously operated out of the police budget, was one area that could be cut. The 2014 budget eliminated the service at a savings that Buffardi estimated at about $600,000 per year.
“[The police contract] was one of the reasons we had to make that cut,” he said.
And the department’s gross salaries for 2014 might not be much better. Buffardi said up to five veteran officers could retire this year, meaning the town could face compensatory and vacation time payouts totaling tens of thousands of dollars.
“They all have generous banks of comp time and accumulated time we’ll have to pay out,” he said.
Buffardi said the town has since set aside $900,000 over five years to contend with unanticipated costs arising from retirements or new contracts. He hopes the allocation will help prevent taxpayers from having to foot such a bill in the future.
“We’ll be prepared to pay for it because we’ve set money aside,” he said.
Others suggested the town consider more drastic options. Joe Villano, one of two Republicans on the Town Board, said Rotterdam should consider possibly eliminating the Police Department altogether if salaries continue to spike as badly as they did in 2013.
Though acknowledging there would be little support for such a measure, Villano said it could be the only option to reduce the department’s spending, given the minimum staffing levels included in the contract. He said the town could bargain with the union from a platform of sustainable spending.
“If you won’t let us reduce to what we can afford, then maybe the whole department needs to go,” he said. “If we can’t make it work anyway, the alternative is scorched earth.”