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Schenectady tops regional police, fire pay

Schenectady tops regional police, fire pay

Empire Center report compares municipal salaries across state
Schenectady tops regional police, fire pay
A Schenectady police car in front of Mont Pleasant Middle School in 2013.
Photographer: Gazette File Photo

CAPITAL REGION -- The city of Schenectady paid the highest average salary to police officers and firefighters of any city in the Capital Region last year, a new statewide report shows.

The annual "What They Make" report by the conservative-oriented Empire Center for Public Policy found that, in 2017, the average salary of police officers in Schenectady was $94,817, the highest among 10 cities in the Capital Region.

The city's firefighters earned an average of $88,236, also the top average salary in the region.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city's Police and Fire departments both respond to a high volume of calls.

"I want people to be adequately compensated," he said. "They are highly competent, highly trained professionals, but at the same time we want to make sure they are performing at a high level of service to the community," McCarthy said.

The numbers contained in the Empire Center report are based on information that municipalities, excluding New York City, submit to the New York State and Local Retirement System; the figures include regular pay, overtime and any unused sick or vacation time that an employee cashes in. Both full- and part-time employees are included.

"Local government is a labor-intensive business, and employee compensation is the single biggest element of most municipal budgets," the Empire Center report noted.

Schenectady also had the highest-paid police force in 2016, with the average salary at $101,950 -- a figure that reflects a multi-year contract settlement with the police union that year that included retroactive 2 percent pay increases for 2014 and 2015.

Schenectady is the region's second-largest city, with an estimated population of 65,625. The largest, Albany, has a population of 97,856 and a police force that last year earned an average of $90,454. That put Albany in the second-place slot regionally, though it had 330 officers, compared with Schenectady's 163, according to the report.

The statewide average for police pay was $94,578, but that number was skewed by high salaries on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. The Capital Region average annual police salary was $83,913.

Firefighters earned an average of $88,236 in 2017, but that reflects 2 percent retroactive payments unionized firefighters received after settling a contract that had expired in 2014. In 2016, Schenectady firefighters ranked third in the region, with an average salary of $76,738. Watervliet and Saratoga Springs had higher average firefighter pay that year.

McCarthy said the city's main fire and rescue response vehicles are among the busiest in the region. They respond to 10 to 15 calls per day, about two-thirds of them medical response calls.

For all other Schenectady city employees, the average salary was $43,394, which was second in the region to Troy, where general employees averaged $43,447.

The report includes statewide information but breaks comparisons down by region, recognizing that costs and salaries vary widely among regions such as suburban Long Island and the often-depressed Mohawk Valley and North Country.

Comparing the average salaries of town employees, the report found that out of more than 100 towns in the eight Capital Region counties, Glenville in Schenectady County ranked No. 1. Its 60 employees earned an average salary of $46,860 in 2017.

Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle acknowledged the ranking but said the center's methodology was flawed.

"We have only 60 employees, and some towns the same size have many more employees," he said. "In some ways, this standard penalizes the towns that operate efficiently. We are the leanest government in the county, no question about it."

Rotterdam, which has a similar population to Glenville's 30,000, has 112 employees, according to the report. Its employees averaged $37,473, ranking it seventh on the list. Clifton Park, with about 40,000 residents, has 145 employees earning an average of $44,410. It ranked third in the region.

Glenville, whose workforce is unionized, has many employees who are at the top of their pay scales, due to longevity, Koetzle said. As those people retire, he said, retirement payouts for accrued sick and vacation time contribute to a higher average.

Among county governments in the region, the report found Saratoga County had the highest average salary: $51,094. Schenectady County was second with an $48,635 average.

The Empire Center also manages the SeeThroughNY.net website, which lets the public look up individual public employees' salaries.

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