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Overtime costs jump 11% at state agencies, comptroller reports

ALBANY – Overtime at state agencies jumped 11 percent last year, the state comptroller reported Tuesday.

The report prompted one major union to claim Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s departmental cuts have forced managers to turn to overtime to staff mandated services, such as care for developmentally disabled people.

The total overtime tab reached $529 million in 2012, up $52 million from the previous year. In all, 14.5 million overtime hours were logged by state workers. Two-thirds of the total came from three agencies: the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, the Office of Mental Health and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

“We found seven agencies with more than 25 percent of employees working overtime to meet their responsibilities. New York State policy requires limiting overtime to a minimum, and I urge all agencies to ensure that this expense is reduced whenever possible,’’ Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a written statement.

The fiscal watchdog said that the rising overtime trend began in 2009 but that 2012 saw the biggest leap. The prison and parole agency’s overtime has actually fallen, while the Office for People With Developmentally Disabilities has been seeing what DiNapoli called a sharp increase in overtime. That agency saw an average of 177.5 hours of overtime per employee in 2012, up from 123 hours the year before Cuomo took office.

Throughout all agencies, overtime accounted for an average of 3.6 percent of payroll. At the Veterans’ Homes agency, overtime was 10.5 percent of payroll in 2012, while the State Police spent 6 percent of its payroll on overtime.

In all, overtime earnings by state workers rose 11.8 percent from 2011, and total overtime hours worked increased 6 percent. DiNapoli said the higher overtime costs during the Cuomo administration and at the end of the period when David A. Paterson was governor reverse a trend during the brief administration of Eliot Spitzer in 2007 and 2008.

State workers logged 800,000 more overtime hours in 2012 than in 2011, DiNapoli reported. At $74 per hour, State Police employees made the most per hour of overtime among state employees. At $40 per hour, the state’s court system paid the next highest per hour rate for overtime.

The largest union representing state workers used the DiNapoli report to bash Cuomo, saying much of the overtime is at large institutional agencies that have seen funding cutbacks but still have required staffing levels to care for people, such as those with developmental disabilities.

“The Cuomo administration continues to purposely understaff state agencies and mandate overtime to a perverse degree,’’ said Civil Services Employees Association President Danny Donohue. “They tell the public they’re cutting the public workforce and improving operations when they are really eroding decent, middle-class jobs, leaving people at risk and still costing the public plenty.”

CSEA said overtime decisions are made by management, who sometimes have no choice, by law, but to have certain staffing levels in direct care jobs such as at health care settings. The union said chronic overtime mandates on workers is leading to burnout and can contribute to “both occupational injuries and on-the-job mistakes.’’

The Cuomo administration said overall payroll costs for agencies have been dropping. Since the governor took office, agency budgets were cut by 10 percent in the first year and spending has remained flat ever since, said Morris Peters, a spokesman for the governor’s budget division. Each agency is managing their workforce to stay within their budget. As a result, overall payroll spending is down.