MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Cash-strapped Nassau County has doled out $500,000 in termination pay to its former top cop.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, it is the county’s policy to pay retiring police officers for their unused sick days and vacation time. That has already cost the county more than $46 million this ear.
But can taxpayers afford it?
A newspaper ad for the Nassau County police exam boasts “unbelievable benefits.” A case in point is the former Nassau County police commissioner — Thomas Krumpter, 51 – who retired with a $138,000 annual pension for life.
He is also earning another government check heading up the police department in Lloyd Harbor for $183,000, and is banking more than $550,800 for unused sick and vacation time.
Termination pay for unused days off is a long-held practice in Nassau County, but the Empire Center for Public Policy said it is outdated on high-taxed Long Island.
“Do we think in this day and age, people who take that job without that benefit, which I would argue the answer is absolutely. You don’t expect in the private market to get payouts for sick and vacation time,” said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center for Public Policy.
Generous Nassau County benefits are mirrored in local villages. Old Westbury paid out more than $1 million to a retiring top cop. But with a deficit looming, can Nassau County taxpayers still afford such perks?
Nassau officers can bank as many as 275 unused sick and 90 unused vacation days for payout at retirement. In the private sector, it is use it or lose it for most.
Nassau County residents were split on the practice of payouts for officers.
“I definitely think that it’s being too generous,” one man said.
“They risk their lives when they go out there,” a woman said. “So I think they deserve whatever they get.”
“Police protect us — but that’s too much, too much for me,” another man said.
Suffolk County police can cash in even more of their unused sick and vacation days, Westchester County police fewer. NYPD officers get unlimited sick days, but are not paid back for unused days.
The issue could be job number one for incoming Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. With police contracts up, Curran told CBS2 she looks “forward to sitting down with the police unions to negotiate their next contracts which need to be fair to our officers and the taxpayers.”
So what is fair to officers and taxpayers?
“If people don’t like this system, they should encourage the county executive and county legislature to negotiate tougher contracts,” said Hofstra University Dean of Suburban Studies Lawrence Levy.
Police unions said the benefit was negotiated for a good reason.
“It was decided during the process that because of those inherent risks of risking their lives every day, police officers would accumulate certain benefits that you don’t get in the private sector,” said Kevin Black, president of the Nassau Superior Officers Association.
Police also said paying an officer for unused days off is still less expensive than the alternative – paying someone overtime to fill the vacancy.
They argue that for decades, they have also given up other benefits to keep this one.
In Nassau County, officers on the job five years earn 53 sick days and vacation days each year. Their termination pay is capped at double their annual salary.