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Poloncarz: Cut overtime for top Erie County managers

The plan would shift 93 top county managers and appointees from hourly to salary pay rates in order to stop overtime payments.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — From the Rath Building and Erie County Hall, there may be an answer to the concerns over significant overtime payments to some top officials and appointees during the pandemic.  

2 On Your Side spoke with the current county comptroller, who hopes for some resolution of this hot-button issue for taxpayers.

"I don't know if the proposal that the county executive has put on the table is what will finally happen, but I think it's a good starting point," Erie County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick said.

That is Hardwick's assessment of the plan from Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz in the new budget plan before the legislature. It would shift 93 top county managers and appointees from hourly to salary pay rates in order to stop overtime payments, which soared during the pandemic and were offset with federal COVID relief funding.

The County Executive's spokesman said: "As discussed at yesterday's committee meeting of the Erie County Legislature, the County Executive's 2023 proposed budget includes language to classify high-level appointed supervisory employees as salaried rather than hourly. This change will bring Erie County in line with other counties across New York State and eliminate the collection of overtime for these senior managerial-confidential employees."

Former Erie County comptroller Stefan Mychajliw first raised the issue in 2020 as he claimed over $800,000 went to 54 top-tier employees. That included health commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein.

Mychajliw said the administration abused the overtime policy for already highly paid political appointees.   

Poloncarz fired back that Mychajliw was a "bitter man" with an inaccurate report point. He reiterated that line last December, criticizing reporters for carrying what he said was a politically motivated attack. Poloncarz also repeated the idea that it was aimed at Dr. Burstein's ethnicity.

He said in December of 2021, "It's false. It's a lie. It's BS."

And then in March he emphasized this point to 2 On Your Side when we asked about a closed-door meeting that Hardwick had held with county officials to discuss the overtime issue.

"The highest amount of overtime that was paid is not in my administration. It's actually in the sheriff's office, so you got to look at all of that. I think that's important, and I think it's inappropriate to focus on one individual," Poloncarz said.

For 2021, the Comptroller's figures show Dr. Burstein made the top amount at $94,386 in such overtime pay, with Erie County Undersheriff John Greenan listed second at $76,315. Other employees with the sheriff's office are also listed among the top positions. 

Comptroller Hardwick said he was not satisfied with the response to that closed-door meeting he set up and felt the overtime subject should be explored more-so.

So now this about-face policy shift to be in line with other county governments across the state. 2 On Your Side asked Hardwick, "Other counties just did this (with straight salary pay), and I guess Erie County was kind of the outlier?" 

Hardwick replied: "Yeah, we were, and we still are, and that's why it's so important this get addressed now. We kept putting out the reports, trying to keep the issue alive, and I think now that the county executive has picked up the ball by addressing it in the budget."

The county comptroller's office under Hardwick now reports overtime in 2019 at just over $359,000. Then in 2020 it jumped to $1.47 million at the height of the pandemic. For 2021, the county overtime was over $669,000. And then so far for 2022 it stands at nearly $689,000.  

By way of a further explanation on methodology, a spokesperson clarified that "M/C Overtime when reported on together includes Stadium Pay (available to MC employees of the Sheriff only) and Holiday Pay Worked for Managerial Confidential employees. All are compensated at 1.5 times the individual’s base pay and also paid out as cash to the employee (as opposed to a compensatory time accrual)."

There is reportedly pushback on this plan from Sheriff John Garcia, who may seek a compromise as he feels his round-the-clock operation needs flexibility for emergencies.  

The legislature, which must approve this change, seems receptive to the discussion. Democratic Majority Leader Timothy Meyers said this plan better reflects the roles of top county managers as they seek fairness for taxpayers and county staff.

Minority Caucas Chairman Joseph Lorigo, representing Conservatives and Republicans, said they agreed this was a good start to the discussion, which he and other lawmakers have been calling for for years.     



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