Erie County paid $3M COVID-19 funds to salaried employees for OT

Jul 17, 2020

Erie County legislators say they want to take a hard look at millions of dollars paid in overtime during the COVID-19 pandemic to salaried employees.

Auditors for County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw say a little over $3 million has been paid from federal dollars flowing from the federal CARES Act. Of that, around one-quarter went to top officials of the county who are salaried and, therefore, not usually eligible for OT.

The largest single amount of $84,000 went to Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, who makes a base salary of $201,000. However, the payments vary wildly across county government: $23,000 to 11 workers in the County Executive's office; $118,000 in the Department of Emergency Services, including Commissioner Dan Neaverth Jr. who contracted COVID-19 and recovered; and $442,000 to 13 top executives in the Sheriff's Department.

Legislature Minority Leader Joe Lorigo said the spending has to be looked at.

"If we didn't look into it, if we didn't make sure that every dollar was accounted for, that would be problematic for us and that's something we need to do," Lorigo said. "Because we don't know if the federal government is going to come back and say, 'Hey, you can't keep that money.' They did after the 2006 October Storm. They came back and tried to say the $50 million they gave the county had to be paid back because we didn't have proper overtime. I don't want to see that happen again."

There is potentially a larger cost, since the overtime could add to the pensions of those receiving the cash. Pensions are based on the three top income years.

County Legislator Kevin Hardwick says there was a need for O-T but wants to make sure it was spent properly.

"There was reason for a lot of this overtime on the part of salaried employees, and because of the declaration of emergency, they can be paid," Harwick said. "We want to make sure, however, that that opportunity was not exploited by individuals."