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Questions target 16.5 percent raise for county budget worker

County Republicans are questioning the need for a 16.5 percent pay increase sought by County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz for a budget staffer at a time when many county employees have gone without raises.

Poloncarz has asked county legislators to raise the salary for management consultant Patricia Borowiec from $55,305 to $64,434 because of new duties she has taken on in the Budget Office.

But County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw and several Republican legislators want more information about why the job has been singled out for a raise.

“That is a massive increase, and one that I need to be assured is justified,” said Legislator Edward A. Rath III, R-Amherst.

Borowiec, who was hired by Poloncarz in March 2009 when he was county comptroller, was appointed to a non-union job in the County Budget Office last year. The job, said Budget Director Robert Keating, serves as a budget analyst for various departments, including the Department of Social Services.

“She’s taking on more and just done incredibly well,” Keating said.

Poloncarz proposed using money from a part-time position that has been overfunded to pay for the salary increase without impacting the county budget.

Borowiec, a Democrat, worked on Poloncarz’s campaign when he ran for election in 2011 and is an officer of Western New York Democrats for Progress, a group Poloncarz had been president of before becoming county executive.

“Ms. Borowiec is a consummate, knowledgeable professional, regardless of her political affiliation,” said Peter Anderson, a spokesman for Poloncarz.

Many county employees who serve in union and non-union positions have seen their wages stagnate in recent years as contract negotiations with the county’s largest union have dragged on. During that time, many employees have been eligible only for longevity step increases but have not received cost-of-living raises.

The County Legislature can authorize a pay increase for certain positions by changing the way a job is categorized.

Last month, Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo, sent a request from Sheriff Timothy Howard for several personnel adjustments to a committee for more study because it included a proposal to increase the pay for Jail Superintendent Thomas Diina from $87,117 to $96,046. Grant said she thought the item needed additional discussion because Diina had been appointed to the position only last year.

Undersheriff Mark N. Wipperman said the request was made in an attempt to restore the salary to the pay grade it had been set at prior to cuts made in the 2011 budget. The salary is currently budgeted at the same pay rate as the two deputy superintendents who work at the Correctional Facility and the Holding Center directly under Diina, Wipperman said.

The proposal from the sheriff would use money from a vacant lieutenant position to fund the superintendent’s salary increase, as well as the creation of a jail laborer and an identification clerk.

Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick, R-City of Tonawanda, said he wanted to hear more information about the proposed raise for Borowiec before it is voted on by the full Legislature. The proposed increase in the Budget Division, however, appears to have enough votes for approval today by the Democratic controlled Legislature.

“There are a lot of hardworking employees in Erie County, and most of them are not getting $9,000 raises,” Hardwick said Wednesday. “That being said, it may be justified. They’ll have the opportunity to justify it tomorrow.”