Erie County government has a “$100,000 Club” – and taxpayers, as well as county officials, need to know about it.
That’s the conclusion of a new report by County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw being made public today.
Nearly 1 in 5 full-time Erie County workers cost the county – and by extension, taxpayers – at least $100,000 each in 2012, when salaries and benefits were combined with overtime, bonuses, cash-outs and other costs, the report found.
Overtime appears to be a big reason why so many workers are in the “club.”
For the majority of those workers – 79 percent – overtime pay contributed to their total earnings, in some cases greatly increasing the compensation, according to the comptroller’s report.
“Overtime needs to be looked at very carefully,” Mychajliw said. “One nurse made 157 percent of his or her base salary in overtime. Someone in law enforcement made 186 percent of his base salary.”
For that nurse, the overtime totaled more than $85,000 last year, the report found.
The $100,000-and-up workers represent 18 percent of the county’s full-time workforce of 4,187 people, Mychajliw said.
The report will be sent to the County Legislature for review.
“I was surprised,” said Mychajliw, who took office in January. “Personnel may be an area where they want to look first, before raising people’s property taxes.”
He said the report is designed to be helpful to legislators, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and others who are in positions of hiring and maintaining the county’s workforce.
The county executive had no direct response to the report’s findings Sunday when contacted by The Buffalo News.
“We haven’t seen the actual report yet, so we can’t comment on it’s factual accuracy,” Poloncarz stated through his spokesman, Peter Anderson. “It’s highly unusual for a report to be issued without an exit conference.”
He referred to the much-criticized Federal Emergency Management Agency audit that accused then-County Executive Joel A. Giambra of violating rules regarding the awarding of cleanup contracts after the October snowstorm in 2006.
“I find it ironic that the comptroller is doing exactly what both he and I are criticizing the federal Inspector General’s Office of FEMA for doing in the manner they are conducting their audit,” Poloncarz said through his spokesman.
Among the principal findings of the comptroller’s survey of all full-time employees using 2012 payroll records is the fact that 723 county workers cost the county more than $100,000 apiece last year. These $100,000-and-up workers spanned a broad array of county departments, Mychajliw said.
The highest number were in jail management, followed by the Sheriff’s Office and then the District Attorney’s Office and Social Services Department.
“That was one of the surprising things about the audit,” Mychajliw said. “This seems to be taking place across the board in Erie County government.”
Mychajliw said that personnel costs are a key area to focus on in sizing up the county budget in an era of belt-tightening. Personnel costs amount to $326 million, or nearly a third of the county budget, the comptroller said.
However, the report found that the upper-scale earnings of the employees in the survey did not always correlate with high base salaries, Mychajliw said.
In 219 cases, the base salary of a worker was increased by 50 percent through overtime, according to the report.
“We found some employees whose base salary is $34,000 a year, who cost taxpayers $100,000 or more to fully fund the position,” Mychajliw said.
“We have very generous fringe benefits for employees – that taxpayers are footing the bill for,” he said. “Fringe benefits represent 67 percent of an employee’s salary in Erie County government.”
Mychajliw said that his office’s report is not intended as an attack on county workers – whom he described as often pulling long shifts in difficult jobs.
“Believe me, our county employees work incredibly hard,” Mychajliw said. “I wholeheartedly respect the work they do. But, facing $25.4 million in budget gaps, we have to consider very painful choices when it comes to personnel.
“The absolute last resort should be raising property taxes.”
The lessons here, Mychajliw said, include the fact that every hire is important – especially in an era of budget cutbacks and projected gaps.
“This is why this is so important to the Legislature,” Mychajliw said. “They may think, when jobs are added, ‘Oh, that’s only $34,000 a year.’ ”
“But some of these positions, they cost taxpayers a lot of money.”
Mychajliw said that his office’s report has led him to place overtime costs on the list of county issues he plans to audit and investigate in 2013.
“We’re definitely putting overtime on the 2013 audit plan,” he said.
Mychajliw added: “This could be a good guide for the Legislature, about adding jobs. Even lower-paying jobs can be a budget-buster.”
According to the comptroller’s report, the following departments were highest on the list for the number of full-time employees they have on staff that cost more than $100,000 last year in salary, benefits, overtime, and other bonuses and perks:
• Jail management, with 301 employees.
• Sheriff’s Office, with 102 employees.
• District Attorney’s Office and Social Services Department, each with 55 employees.
• Health Department, with 42 employees.
• Sewer Management Division, with 26 employees.
• Central Police Services, with 22 employees.
• Public Works/Highways, with 19 employees.
• Probation Department, with 14 employees.
• Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, with 10 employees.
Mychajliw said he thinks that much of the problem with overtime and benefits is the way the system has been created – not the workers.
“But just as families at home are doing more with less,” he said, “we have to do the same in county government.”
News Staff Reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org