In an article entitled ‘ I observed that in 2008, the then Chief of Clarkstown Police, Peter Noonan, 'earned' $332,529.88. He was not even the highest paid police officer; one of his two captains earned $335,676 and another captain earned $311,369. The 50 highest-earning Clarkstown employees were all members of the Police Department, with those 50 earning roughly $10 million, or about $200,000 each on average.
Supervisor Gromack called the police salaries "obscene" but also said that the department was "proficient", and was "covering the entire Town on its own and so is doing the job of two or more departments". Still, he said, police compensation accounts for 25 percent of the Town’s budget, and puts an undue strain on a budget that he struggles to keep balanced. “I have the highest regard for the job they are doing,” Mr. Gromack said. “We have to protect the people of Clarkstown, but we also have to protect their pocketbooks.”
Mr. Gromack blamed the high police salaries on previous administrations, which he said allowed salaries and benefits to balloon with every contract negotiation. During his years in office, he said, he has been working to limit overtime and scale back some perks. “I inherited these obscene salaries, and I’ve been attempting to turn them around and bring some reality and sanity to the salary structure of our police,” Mr. Gromack said.
Mr Gromack has now gone through two cycles of negotiations with the PBA and what has he accomplished?
The Clarkstown police were awarded 3.4% raises by a State arbitration panel retroactive for 2009 and 2010 even as it conceded that the police officers were among the highest paid in the nation. According to the Journal News the Clarkstown Police Benevolent Association, comprising approximately 160 members, asked for a 5.5 percent increase for the period.
"It wasn't what we would have written," Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack said. "We were hoping for a lower number." The arbitration panel admitted that "by every indication, Clarkstown police officers are among the highest paid in the nation. When one calculates the daily rate of pay for Clarkstown police officers, including the various time-off and leave provisions, these numbers become appreciable."
How well did Supervisor Gromack fare in his recent negotiations with the PBA for the five year period January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2017? According to New City Patch the a new five-year agreement with the Rockland County Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association with 2.5 percent increases each year. The union voted on it late Tuesday afternoon, May 15, 2012 and passed it. The resolution to approve the agreement was a “late addition” to the Town Board's agenda the same evening.
Writing in the Our Town newspaper on May 23, 2012, Anne Pinzow reported that the Clarkstown Police would receive an additional 13% raise over the next five years and the Town saved, according to Supervisor Gromack, $25,000 by not having to go to arbitration! To put this 'savings' into perspective it is akin to being told that one’s weekly grocery bill of $100 will increase by 13 percent over the next five years but you will not be charged for the plastic bags in which you pack the groceries and so you will save the grand sum of 3 cents per week.
And what did the Town get in return for granting a 13 percent raise to the police? More efficiencies? No! More random drug tests? Yes!
Our Town reports that “the number of random drug tests was increased from three to five a year as a ‘grant’ to the Town but this is at the discretion of the Police Chief and captains".
What is the average taxpayer to make of such a 'grant'? Is one to conclude that with these increased, ‘obscene’ salaries police officers might be tempted to smoke pot and hence the Supervisor might need additional random drug tests at the "discretion" of the Police Chief? It makes one wonder at whose "discretion" does the Police Chief, Michael Sullivan, get tested?
After all, logic would dictate that temptation is greatest among those whose salaries are the most 'obscene'. Sullivan earns $260,000 managing a police force of less than 160 while NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, whose salary is $212,947, oversees the largest urban police department in the world with roughly 40,000 police officers under his command, a force about one half the size of the total population of Clarkstown.
In an opinion piece in the same edition of Our Town under the heading 'In Clarkstown PBA Pact, Send in the Clones' Frank Grandel writes:
“Once again political corruption has reared its ugly head in Clarkstown”.
Commenting on the fact that within hours of the agreement with the PBA the Town Board held a rapid ‘politburo-like’ vote, Grandel continued:
“Supervisor Gromack and board continue to undermine the , adding numerous resolutions to the agenda at the , intending to purposely hide their unethical behavior from public scrutiny.”
The Town Board agenda item to which Mr. Grandel referred read innocently: 'Approving a memorandum of agreement with the Clarkstown PBA'. The public was thus given a couple of hours notice and a nine word statement that Supervisor Gromack had again given away the store.
Mr Grandel went on to note that this was a repeat performance of what occurred last year after an arbitration settlement with the same union and that Gromack:
“gave away over $8½ millions in salary increases in less than one year. Town employees in return contribute to his re-election campaign, political endorsements and a bloc vote to keep this career politician in office, to continue this cycle of legal extortion of taxpayers. No concessions were achieved, only increased guaranteed salary, overtime and sick-pay payments.”
What Mr Grandel could also have mentioned is that unions are private groups and they are not required legally to hold their meetings in public. But under the Open Meetings law if a majority of Town Board attends negotiations with a union and wishes that the meetings be open to the public, then they must be so. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Clarkstown Town Board used the Open Meetings Law to its own advantage in negotiations with the unions instead of hiding in the shadows and then trying to rush votes past the citizens without due public notice?
If Supervisor Gromack cared about controlling "obscene" salaries he might think a little outside of the box. He has added to the salary obscenity on his watch and the continues unabated.
In 2009, the Clarkstown Police Department employed the first, second and fourth highest paid county and municipal employees in the State of New York, having the highest average salary statewide of any town. The mean compensation was $148,000 and mean salary was $115,000 more than double the average annual wage ($51,410) of police officers in the USA.
Clarkstown has made it into the Top Five rank of most taxed counties in the USA. The following is a list of the highest median property taxes (along with its median home values) in the top 5 counties nationwide, according to the Tax Foundation’s rankings.
1. Nassau County, N.Y.: $8,478; $494,000
2. Westchester County, N.Y.: $8,474; $562,700
3. Hunterdon County, N.J.: $8,413; $453,100
4. Bergen County, N.J.: $8,269; $486,200
5. Rockland County, N.Y.: $8,084; $482,300
(Source: “Group Ranks Nassau No. 1 in Property Taxes,” Newsday April 26, 2011)
Rockland County is 5th in median property taxes paid on homes and also 6th in taxes as a percent of income. Over the past five years home prices in Clarkstown fell by just under 25% and there was no increase in the Social Security Cost of Living Adustment (COLA) for 2010 and 2011 because the Consumer Price Index, as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor, for those years did not increase above the level of the third quarter of 2008, the last year a COLA was determined.
While Supervisor Gromack and his ‘Yes!-board’ of clones have been handing out increases to very highly paid Town employees, those who have been paying the bills have seen no increase in their net income in the same time period and have seen their homes, on which the Town assesses how much they should pay in taxes, decline in value by 25%.
Supervisor Gromack can no longer blame his predecessors for the present "obscene" salaries. They are now all his!