ITHACA, NY – The city of Ithaca employs more people than most cities of its size — and it pays them more, too.

The Empire Center released a report on Tuesday detailing how much government employees of all levels are paid. Yesterday, we looked at how the Ithaca Police Department’s pay stacked up against other departments in the Southern Tier. Today we look at the rest of the city’s workforce. Here are a few key takeaways:

1 – Four of the ten highest paid municipal employees in the Southern Tier are in Tompkins County

Here’s the list:

  • Gerard Lippert, a psychiatrist, is the third highest paid in the Souther Tier at $198,606
  • John Bezirganian, also a psychiatrist, is the fourth highest paid in the Souther Tier at $188,085
  • Jacob Young, a lieutenant and SWAT Commander with the Ithaca Police Department, is the sixth highest at $162,459
  • Recently retired Tompkins District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson was the seventh highest paid at $162,208

While “psychiatrist” might not be the first job that comes to mind when we think of county employees, this pattern seems to be fairly normal. Four of the top ten in the region are psychiatrists, and four are District Attorneys. Aside from Lt. Young, the other person on the list is the President of SUNY Broome Community College. Police and fire officials tended to make the top ten in other regions with bigger metropolitan centers.

2 – The City of Ithaca, Town of Ithaca and Tompkins County provide the biggest municipal paychecks in the region

Both the City and County were number one in the region for highest average pay. The city pays its 303 employees $45,638 on average, while the county pays its 877 employees $51,435 on average.

To put those numbers in context, the city pays about $4,000 more than Elmira, which ranked second, and about almost $15,000 more than last-ranked city, Oneonta.

The county pays its employees on average $5,000 more than Steuben, which ranked second, and about $15,000 more than last-ranked Ostego County.

The Town of Ithaca also topped the list for towns, paying its 79 employees $48,128 on average.

Several other towns in Tompkins also ranked high – Lansing and Dryden were fourth and sixth, respectively. The other towns in Tompkins were in the top one-third of the 145-town list, with the exception of Ulysses which ranked 129, paying its 23 employees $18,173 on average.

3 – Ithaca’s firefighters are also well-paid

As with the police department, Ithaca ranked highest in the region for firefighter pay, at an average of $81,431. Elmira was second at $72,457 and Binghamton third at $71,552.

Ithaca’s fire department is among the most well-compensated in all of Upstate New York, beat out only by Syracuse, Rochester, and Watervliet.

4 – The city has a pretty big staff compared to its population, particularly when students aren’t in town

While what government employees are paid is one piece of the puzzle, another important piece is how many people our municipalities employ. A single overblown salary may look bad on paper, but an inefficient government paying more employees than it needs to can lead to more waste.

The City of Ithaca has 303 employees and a permanent population of about 30,000 people, but the population swells closer to 50,000. So that means that during the school year there’s around 165 people for every employee during the school year, and about 100 people per employee otherwise.

Comparing that to some other nearby cities:

  • Binghamton: 47,000 population, 347 employees (ratio of one employee to 135 citizens)
  • Utica: 62,000 population, 230 employees (ratio of one to 270)
  • Elmira: 30,000 population, 130 employees (ratio of one to 230)
  • Auburn: 27,000 population, 155 employees (ratio of one to 177)
  • Cortland: 20,000 population, 88 employees (ratio of one to 215)

(All population numbers approximate based on 2010 census data.)

5 – The county looks pretty efficient, at least on paper

Tompkins County, meanwhile, appears fairly efficient. The county employees 877 people and serves a population of around 100,000 — again that number grows with the student population. That means the county serves around 142 people per employee during the school year, 112 otherwise.

Compare that to:

  • Broome County: 200,000 population, 2,254 employees (ratio of one to 89)
  • Chemung County: 88,000 population, 1,112 employees (ratio of one to 79)
  • Cortland County: 50,000 population, 555 employees (ratio of one to 90)
  • Schuyler County: 18,000 population, 250 employees (ratio of one to 72)

Mitigating factors

It’s important to note that, as always, statistics do not tell the whole story. There are a number of factors that can skew the numbers in either direction.

In terms of salaries, it’s important to note that the Ithaca area has a vastly higher cost-of-living than most anywhere else in upstate, so that will naturally skew what government employees are paid, especially given the city and county’s living wage ideals.

In terms of staff numbers and efficiency, some cities consolidate more services with their corresponding county than others do. Some cities provide completely different types of services, such as youth services, that others simply do not.

Another factor is the relative size of the areas in question. Broome County is 706 square miles of land to Tompkins’ 475, so it’s likely that Broome needs more employees just to cover the geography.

Ithaca’s student population also makes things more difficult to evaluate. For example, many Cornell students may seek health care through Gannett rather than through county agencies, so that population isn’t really being served by the county.

Weighing all that, it’s difficult to derive a clear picture from these numbers. The Ithaca Voice will continue to look at these figures, and follow up on any anomolies.

(Featured photo by 401k 2012 on Flickr)

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.