Making the Water Authority a county department could save money

A previous post (May 19, “I’m shocked, shocked that politics is going on here”) discussed the operations of the Erie County Water Authority (ECWA) and suggested that the Authority be transformed into a department of Erie County government. This post provides some information about how such action could save real money for the people and businesses that currently get their water from the ECWA.

Government salaries in New York State are sort of like a pyramid. State salaries are usually higher than county salaries, which are in turn somewhat higher than local government salaries. There are always exceptions to this, but for the most part the diagram holds. And then there is the ECWA.

Dan Ward, President of the Amherst Democratic Club and former Amherst Town Supervisor, recently distributed to some folks a listing of the salaries of all 235 ECWA employees. The list was made available by the Authority under a Freedom of Information request.

In looking at the operations of the Water Authority the best example of a comparative Erie County government department is Public Works. Both departments require professional engineers who develop and maintain vital public facilities and skilled technicians to carry out the work. The public is heavily dependent on both the ECWA and the county DPW for services.

DPW takes care of 1,200 lane-miles of roads; builds, cleans and maintains county buildings; operates the weights and measures unit; maintains a fleet of vehicles; and manages the county Utility Fund. The DPW in 2015 has a total budget of $81.7 million with 314 employees. It has the benefit of drawing on various services provided centrally for all county departments such as legal, accounting, purchasing, personnel and technology support.

The ECWA in 2015 has a budget of $68 million with 235 employees. Its mission is to deliver quality water to its customers.

I have compared some titles at the ECWA with similar titles in county government, particularly in DPW, plus others in central supportive departments. The numbers are rather revealing.

I am not getting into who holds the ECWA jobs or what their party affiliations are. This is strictly about the numbers. Keep in mind that related to all the positions listed below are fringe benefits, and that pension and payroll taxes are directly calculated as a percentage of salary.

One particular functional area of the ECWA really stands out. The ECWA is incredibly top-heavy with people working in high-paying positions relating to human resources in any form you want to characterize it – personnel, labor relations, human resources. Their budget for a 235- person authority includes:

  • Secretary to the Authority and Personnel Director           $132,756
  • Director of Human Resources                                                     $112,114
  • Director of Employee Relations                                                 $105,978
  • Employee Benefits Specialist                                                      $ 76,228

The Erie County Personnel Department manages services for the entire county, with its 4,000 employees. The Department also provides civil service system assistance to local governments and school districts in the county involving hundreds of additional local employees. Here are the top four HR positions by salary in the Personnel Department:

  • Commissioner                                                                                   $108,455
  • Director of Payroll Services                                                          $94,637
  • Chief of Classification and Compensation                              $92,764
  • Principal Executive Assistant                                                       $85,815

Here are some other salaries paid to ECWA personnel compared with Erie County government positions of similar title. This information makes no attempt to review the salary ranges of the positions, but just lists the salaries being paid to incumbents in those jobs as reported in the 2015 Erie County Budget and the list of salaries provided by the ECWA:

  • An administrative assistant at the ECWA is paid $81,187; a similar title in the DPW is at $53,039
  • Confidential secretary to the executive director at the ECWA is at $61,150; the secretary to the DPW commissioner makes $42,434
  • An ECWA auto mechanic makes $58,822; the same title in the DPW is at $52,707

And finally, there are titles at the ECWA for which there is nothing really comparable in county government at these salaries. Keep in mind that the ECWA, even with all 235 of its positions, would only be a middling sized operation compared with county departments:

  • Deputy director                                                                                $147,574
  • Director, administration                                                                $138,399
  • Executive director                                                           $132,763
  • Deputy administrative director                                  $126,750
  • Business office manager                                               $105,400

Financial disclosure update

Concerning the financial reports filed August 10 for the Brown for Family Court committee and their two vendor committees, Clarence Supervisor Hartzell and West Seneca supervisor candidate Christine Bove, there is little news.  Brown raised a few thousands of dollars and had some minor expenses, so the campaign funds are probably being saved for media.  Nothing much for Hartzell.  Bove has filed both her July 15th report and her 32-day pre-primary report indicating some cash problems.  There is nothing from any of them about the vendor status of the Bove and Hartzell campaigns, who sold some petition-gathering services to the Brown campaign.

2 thoughts on “Making the Water Authority a county department could save money

  1. Pingback: The Water Authority keeps digging | Politics and Other Stuff

  2. Erie County departments are typically three months behind in their work. My water tastes fine. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


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