Monday, October 5, 2009

Pondering the Imponderable

Robin Vaccai Yess's and my Op Ed "Pondering the Imponderable: Salaries of Ulster County Town Supervisors" appeared yesterday (Sunday, October 4) in the Times Herald Record:

By Robin Vaccai Yess and Mitchell Langbert
Posted: October 04, 2009 - 2:00 AM

Almost a year ago, the Times Herald-Record concluded that there is no rhyme or reason as to why certain town supervisors in the region earn more and other town supervisors earn less. In Ulster County we have uncovered a reason: Part-time town supervisors earn less than full-time. This seems like restating the obvious, but it isn't.

Why some town supervisors are part-time and others are full-time remains a mystery of imponderable proportions. Taxpayers might expect that part-time town supervisors are in smaller towns and full-time supervisors are in larger ones. But that is not so. Whether a town supervisor is full-time or part-time is the single most important determinant of Ulster County supervisors' paychecks. But part-time and full-time status is not significantly related to factors like numbers of town employees and town budgets.

There is no statistical difference in town budgets, household income or numbers of employees in towns with part-time versus full-time supervisors. But in Ulster County, in towns with part-time supervisors, supervisors earn an average of $24,775 in salary. In towns with full-time supervisors they earn $36,876. Budgets, numbers of employees and household income are all higher in towns with full-time supervisors, but at less than the margin of statistical error. Only the difference in salary is greater than the margin of error.

We obtained data on the salaries of Ulster County town supervisors as of Jan. 14 by sending Freedom of Information Act requests to all of the towns in Ulster County. The highest paid Ulster County supervisor is in the Town of New Paltz ($47,870). The lowest paid is in the Town of Kingston ($10,920).

Town supervisors' salaries do correlate with town budgets and populations. But we tested whether budgets and town populations are more important than part-time versus full-time status with a statistical model where part-time status serves as a control. We found that holding part-time/full-time status constant, population, budgets and household income do not have an effect on town supervisors' salaries in Ulster County. Only part-time versus full-time status matters significantly. Our model explains 58 percent of the variability in town supervisors' salaries but the only variable that matters is part-time versus full-time status.

Whereas Olive had a budget of $2.8 million and a population of 4,579 and Ulster had a budget of $14.0 million and a population of 12,550, Olive paid its supervisor $46,350 while Ulster paid its supervisor $45,000.

Almost as imponderable is the amount of health insurance that the towns provide their supervisors. The Town of Kingston does not offer health insurance coverage, while eight other Ulster County towns provide 100 percent of health insurance coverage. In between, five towns provide 82 to 85 percent of health insurance coverage.

We checked whether there are differences among the towns that pay 100 percent of coverage and those that do not. There are no differences in budgets, household income or the number of town employees between towns that cover 100 percent of health insurance and those that do not. However, there is a weak difference in salaries between towns that cover 100 percent of health insurance and those that do not.

We also looked at whether full-timers are more likely to have 100 percent health insurance coverage than part-timers. Half of the part-time town supervisors and 63 percent of the full-time town supervisors get 100 percent medical coverage. The difference is less than the statistical margin of error.

Town supervisors' salaries are likely to be of interest to voters during the coming election year. Many area residents are out of work, and many will have trouble footing their property tax bills. Yet, it will be difficult to get a logical answer as to why some town supervisors are paid more and others are paid less. Voters in districts with full-time town supervisors might ask why they need a full-time supervisor while other towns, equal in size, population and household income, do not need one.

Robin Vaccai Yess is a self-employed certified financial planner and is executive director of the Ulster County Republican Committee. Mitchell Langbert is an associate professor at Brooklyn College and serves on the Town of Olive Republican Committee.

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