Pay breakdown has some surprises

Employee payroll is a major chunk of a municipality’s budget. But the salaries of each employee are not the complete picture.

Even the Empire Center for Public Policy admits this in its recently released “What They Make: County and Municipal Payrolls 2012-2013” study. “The salaries used to compute the averages include overtime and pay for unused sick and vacation time,” the center states. “It is important to note that the figures do not include pension contributions, health insurance, and other fringe benefits, important elements of compensation that typically can add at least 35 or 40 percent to salary costs.”

In other words, an employee earning $60,000 is costing taxpayers about $83,000 annually in total compensation.

Not so surprising is that 17 of the top 20 salaries in the state, excluding New York City, come from Long Island in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The highest paid individual was George Gatta Jr., executive vice president of Suffolk Community College, who collected $359,632 before retiring.

Overall, the salaries of nearly 180,000 workers in the state – excluding New York City – total $9.9 billion, an average of $55,000 per employee. Here’s the breakdown for Western New York, according to the Empire Center:

Highest paid – Jack Quinn, Erie County Community College president, was on top with earnings of $191,755. In Chautauqua County, a child psychiatrist who works in the mental hygiene department, was the top earner with a salary of $162,894 and ranked fourth highest in the region.

Cities – Jamestown’s average pay rated tops at $53,579; Dunkirk rated sixth at $39,705.

Counties – Chautauqua was fourth in average pay, behind Erie, Niagara and Allegany, at $38,565 with a reported 1,475 workers.

Towns – Of the 120 in our area, Hanover rated eighth in average pay at $38,118. Next closest was Portland at 20 with its rate of $28,386.

Villages – Brocton claimed the top spot in average pay for the second year in a row. The village of 1,480 residents paid workers an average of $43,408. Westfield was fifth at $38,515 and Fredonia was 16th at $32,763.

In the police and fire category, Dunkirk rated fourth in the region at $74,881 while Jamestown was seventh at $69,104 in terms of the region’s cities. For the villages, Fredonia was fifth at $58,471 and Silver Creek, which no longer has a village force, was eighth.

The public’s voice

In an effort to reach out to the public, the League of Women Voters of Chautauqua County has participated in recent Fredonia Farm Festivals asking residents to take part in a straw poll of some hot-button area issues. This year was no different.

On the first question, “Should background checks be done on all gun purchasers?” 308 people said yes while 33 disagreed. On the second question, “Should more village-town mergers be considered?” 146 people said yes while 35 opposed.

Though not a scientific survey, the League’s findings on the consolidation question mirrors those of past years when residents backed a merger of the town of Pomfret and the village of Fredonia. Though that has been touted by some as recently as last spring, there seems to be little progress on that front.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.