Nearly half of the Lower Hudson Valley’s new $100,000-plus pensions belong to retirees of the Yonkers Fire Department, The Journal News/lohud.com reports. Twenty city firefighters retired with six-figure pensions, including eight of the region’s top 15 new pensions listed by the state as of March 31. The highest annual pension amount is $147,767 for retired Capt. Cornelius McCaffrey.
Lt. John Halpin, president of the Yonkers Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said an unusually high number of top-ranking officers retired in that period — including three assistant chiefs and eight captains — and that the pensions corresponded to their salaries. “You can’t put a price on the safety and quality of life that police, fire and education services provide out there,” he said. “For what they do, it really isn’t (so high).”
The highest new pension in the region — $186,510 — went to Richard Leo, a retired deputy chief in the Hartsdale Fire District. Eugene Malone III, a retired deputy chief from the Fairview Fire District, has the region’s third top new pension — $156,179. The second-highest, and Rockland County’s top new pension, $161,412, belongs to retired Clarkstown police Sgt. Harry Baumann.
The Lower Hudson Valley now has 374 six-figure pensioners, up from 332 last year. By far the most, 211, are from Yonkers, though only three of those are non-uniformed retirees. There are now 138 police retirees and 70 firefighters with pensions over $100,000. Thanks to overtime income, a majority of those have pensions that exceed their regular salaries when they retired.
Mayor Mike Spano said pension costs are having “catastrophic effects” on city taxpayers.
But Halpin, whose union represents lieutenants, captains and chiefs, said overtime is necessary due to staffing shortages. Firefighters who put in overtime for years shouldn’t be told they can’t work it simply because their careers are winding down, he said.
Firefighters might take advantage of seniority privileges but are kept in line by state rules limiting spiking, he said. The retirement system limits pensionable income in the final year to 20 percent more than in the previous year.
Statewide, police officers and firefighters who retired in 2012 averaged pensions of $69,699, while the average for other public retirees last year was $24,819. In Westchester, Rockland and Putnam, new uniformed retirees have pensions averaging $74,916 while other pensions averaged $25,914.
The number of six-figure pensions in the state, 2,399, is still a tiny percentage of the 379,531 retirees in the New York State Common Retirement Fund whose pensions were calculated as of March 31. The most six-figure pensioners are retired county workers in Nassau County, where there are 601, including 545 retired cops. Suffolk County has 283, including 249 retired police officers.
To make up the losses from the recession, municipalities are paying higher percentages of their payroll — salaries and overtime — to the retirement fund than they have since the 1980s. This year the percentages are 18.9 for non-uniformed employees and 25.8 for police and firefighters. The figures rise to 20.9 percent and 28.9 percent, respectively, next year.