Police officers and firefighters top the list of Western New York’s highest-paid municipal workers, starting with an officer from Lackawanna.
Mark A. Cellini, a Lackawanna police officer for 25 years, was the best-paid local government employee in 2013-14, pulling in $233,929, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative-leaning think tank based in Albany.
But that was nothing compared with the state’s highest-paid government employee, who wasn’t Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, but Charles E. Ewald, the warden at Suffolk County Correctional Facility. He made $414,527.
In fact, 1,803 government employees across New York were paid more than Cuomo, whose salary is $179,000.
Those are some of the findings released Thursday in the Empire Center’s latest edition of “What They Make,” an overview of local government payrolls for the period between April 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014.
The figures compiled are based on reports submitted to the state and local retirement system by local governments – other than New York City – and include base salary and overtime, as well as pay for unused sick and vacation time.
That’s the explanation for Cellini bringing home $233,000 upon his retirement earlier this year.
Terms of the police contract when Cellini was hired in January 1989 allowed officers to accumulate their unused sick and vacation time, then cash out at the end, said Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski.
“This was a cash-out for all of the accumulated days he saved up,” Szymanski said. “He never called off. He was always working.”
As a result, Cellini accrued $88,000 in unused vacation time and an additional $53,000 in sick time, on top of his salary of roughly $79,000, the mayor said.
The police contract was changed in 1997 to cap accrued time at 60 days, he said, but as the Cellini payout shows, Lackawanna is still feeling the effects.
“Mark was a really good cop, but here we are,” Szymanski said. “Municipalities are now constantly paying the price for contracts set decades ago. He’s not the first, and he’s not going to be the last.”
“The Empire Center produces this report because it is committed to protecting the right of taxpayers to know how their money is being spent,” Executive Director Timothy Hoefer said in a statement. “Employee compensation is the single largest component of municipal budgets.”
The entire report can be viewed at Empire Center’s website, www.empirecenter.org.
It should come as no surprise that in most cities, counties, towns and villages, police and firefighters – who have the opportunity for plenty of overtime – are bringing in far more than other municipal employees.
Among local police departments, Cheektowaga had the highest average salary of $98,986, followed by the Village of Hamburg, $95,855, and Amherst, $94,308. When police and fire wages are averaged together, Buffalo is tops with $95,107; in Lackawanna, the figure is $89,357.
In contrast, Jamestown had the highest average salary for “general” employees at $53,776, followed by Amherst, $48,161; the City of Lockport, $46,835; the Village of Wilson, $45,342; and Erie County, $44,157.
Five of Western New York’s counties – Erie, Niagara, Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua – were taken into account when comparing local government salaries.
Erie Community College President Jack F. Quinn Jr. was the region’s best-paid public employee last year but this year was bumped down to No. 2. Quinn earned $192,500.
The ECC president, in fact, was the only one in the Top 10 who was not a member of a police or fire department.
Rounding out the Top 10 on the local list of highest-paid government employees are: Lt. Ralph S. Zangara of the Buffalo Police Department, $183,441; Buffalo fire alarm dispatcher James M. Piepszny, $181,865; Buffalo Detectives Scott R. Malec, $181,738 and Earl E. Perrin Jr., $177,805; Buffalo Police Officer David Acosta, $177,234; Buffalo fire alarm dispatcher Larry C. Moses, $173,998; Buffalo Detective Henry Velez, $173,596; and Lackawanna Police Capt. Joseph E. Leo, $169,684.
The figures do not include fringe benefits, such as health insurance or pension contributions, which can add more than 35 percent to the cost of a public employee, the Empire Center said.