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The upper crust of local-government employees tends to wear uniforms and carry badges, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative-leaning think tank that crunched public payrolls for cities, counties, towns and villages in New York.

Sixteen police officers, all working downstate, dominated the list of New York’s 20 best-paid local employees in 2012-13. Two more on the list were Westchester County corrections officers.

All of the top 20 earned more than $250,000 for the year, the Empire Center said after examining the payrolls covering the 12 months that began in April 2012.

In Western New York, Erie Community College President Jack Quinn led the list of the region’s top earners by collecting $192,000, according to the report. But five police officers, three with the City of Buffalo, were also among the region’s best-paid local government workers.

Andrew D. Benz, the Orchard Park police chief who retired in January, was second on Western New York’s best-paid list. He collected $173,090 as he closed out a 25-year career.

The highest-paid local government employee statewide, George Gatta Jr., collected nearly $360,000 before retiring as executive vice president of Suffolk County Community College in February.

But the second-highest earner was a Long Island police officer. Gary H. Renick, whose base salary exceeded $100,000, collected more than $306,299 when his overtime and other incentives were added, the Empire Center said. Eleven other officers from the same Nassau County Police Department made the top-20 list.

In most cities, counties, towns and villages, the average annual earnings for police and firefighters – who enjoy abundant opportunities for overtime – exceeded the average earnings for “general employees,” a category that includes the mayors, city managers and county executives who lead their respective governments.

In Buffalo, for example, the average annual earnings for more than 1,300 general employees amounted to $42,689. But the city’s more than 1,400 police and firefighters averaged 80 percent more, or $77,051, the Empire Center said.

In Lackawanna, the disparity was even greater. The average $67,603 paid to police and firefighters was more than twice the average annual earnings – $32,570 – for the city’s general employees. The same ratio held for North Tonawanda. General employees averaged $39,411. Police and firefighters, nearly $84,000.

The highest salary for any group of local employees was the average collected in Suffolk County by 23 Village of Amityville police officers – $175,818, the Empire Center said.

The data, compiled in a report called “What They Make,” can be found on the Empire Center’s website, empirecenter.org.

It is based on reports submitted to the state and local retirement system by local governments, other than New York City.

The payouts to employees do not include pension contributions, health insurance and other fringe benefits, which typically can add at least 35 percent to 40 percent to the cost of a public employee.

Timothy Hoefer, the Empire Center’s executive director, said the study gives taxpayers another way to assess the performance of their local governments.

“It’s another way to say, ‘I am paying these taxes, where is this money going?’ ” he said. “We want to be able to look at that in as many ways as possible.”

email: mspina@buffnews.com