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Overtime in 2011 totaled $469 million

State workers rang up 12.2 million hours of overtime last year, costing $469 million in additional pay, the state comptroller reported Wednesday.

Coming in No. 15 on the 2011 overtime list out of all 250,000 state workers was Diane DiRienzo, a nurse at Wende Correctional Facility in Alden. She made $79,499 in overtime -- based on working more than 1,700 hours beyond her normal work week -- that was paid on top of her base salary of $58,468.

DiRienzo could not be reached to comment Wednesday.

The top overtime earner, for at least the second year in a row, was Robert Henry, a security worker at Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center in Orange County. His overtime tab last year totaled $123,512 beyond his $61,830 salary.

Three agencies -- the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the Office of Mental Health and the Department of Correctional and Community Services -- accounted for 60 percent of the state's total overtime costs, according to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The agency serving developmentally disabled people tallied 3 million overtime hours alone, or about 24 percent of all the state's extra pay hours.

"All agencies should continue to carefully monitor overtime use to ensure that it is justified, reduced where possible and to ensure that necessary work gets done efficiently and effectively," DiNapoli said.

Fiscal watchdogs have long complained about overtime costs. But many agencies, particularly those providing front-line services, such as prison guards or nursing care, say staff cutbacks over the years have forced them to rely more on overtime to provide what in many cases are legally required services.

For workers, though, the overtime charges, depending on which pension level they are in, can greatly enhance the calculations that go into forming eventual pension payments upon their retirements.

Overtime costs have slowed in recent years, thanks in large part to the state's perilous finances. From 2007 through last year, DiNapoli said, the number of overtime hours at all state agencies dipped 11.8 percent. The same trends, though, have not been seen at the big institutional agencies, such as the prison system. And while down over the past five years, overtime hours increased last year, during Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's first year in office, compared with 2010, DiNapoli said.

Overtime expenses have cost the state budget $2.3 billion in the past five years.

At $490 million, the prison system has been home to the most overtime payments during the five-year period.

The Civil Service Employees Association, the largest state workers union, noted that granting overtime is a management decision and that public employee contracts do not entitle workers to overtime.

The CSEA said understaffing is one of the chief drivers of overtime and that some agencies intentionally rely on overtime instead of hiring more workers -- and paying benefits -- to provide an array of services.

The CSEA said the release of the top overtime-earners presents a skewed picture of the state's overtime situation. Stephen Madarasz, a CSEA spokesman, said overtime is often involuntary, particularly on the part of direct-care workers, such as nurses, at state facilities.

"This is like blame-the-victim stuff," Madarasz said of the report's release of the top overtime-earners.

"CSEA has consistently advocated for additional staffing at these facilities in order to cut down on overtime and give workers much needed relief from mandatory extended shifts, which can also contribute to injuries," the union said in a written statement.

"The agencies identified are the largest institutional agencies. Of course, they have [the] highest overtime. Much more importantly, overall payroll costs are down," said Joshua Vlasto, a spokesman for Cuomo.

Overtime costs made up 3.15 percent of the state's total payroll costs last year.

After the agencies providing services to developmentally disabled, the mentally ill and at the state's prison system, the State University of New York and the City University of New York accounted for 12 percent of the state's overtime costs, followed by 10 percent at the State Police and 9 percent at the Department of Transportation.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com