Agencies rack up $34.5 million in overtime this year |

Agencies rack up $34.5 million in overtime this year

State agencies have racked up $34.5 million in overtime this year — three-quarters of it in just four departments.

The biggest overtime bill on the list is more than $9 million as of June 5 by the Department of Corrections. That works out to 137 hours of overtime this fiscal year for each of the 2,300 employees at prisons.

Only $831,900 of that was taken as compensatory time. In all, $8.2 million was paid overtime.

Assistant Director Glen Whorton said the overtime built up after the department put correctional officers on 12-hour instead of eight-hour shifts.

“Some administrators had some confusion on how to schedule a 12-hour shift,” he said.

Whorton said all the department’s wardens and associate wardens for operations are now trained in how to minimize relief shifts and handle their schedules with the budget in mind.

In addition, he said the department’s vacancy rate has dropped dramatically as higher pay for guards and new training programs were put in place. Ironically, he said that accented the problem.

“In the past, we had a lot of vacancies and a lot of salary savings,” he said. “If there was a problem with overtime, a lot of it was covered by the salary savings.”

He said the department is fixing the problem.

“In about the last two months, we’ve made huge strides in reducing overtime,” he said. “Next year, you’re not going to see us in the situation we have right now.”

The department’s vacancy rate is down to just 7 percent and Whorton said they are nearly fully staffed in the Ely Maximum Security Prison for the first time.

Second on the list was Human Resources, the state’s largest department with nearly 3,800 employees. Together, agencies including Mental Health, Child and Family Services and Welfare ran up a total of $6,184,840 in overtime. Like prisons, those agencies provide services which must be staffed 24 hours a day so, when someone is sick or on vacation, another worker must be paid to fill in.

After Human Resources comes Public Safety with $5,831,200 in total overtime, $1.1 million in comp hours and $4.7 million paid.

NHP’s high vacancy rate has dropped to 11 percent since pay raises approved by the 2001 Legislature took effect, which should reduce overtime somewhat in the future.

Comeaux said the problem there is historically overtime hours worked by the Highway Patrol. Particularly on holidays, he said much of that is unavoidable.

Another $5,277,877 in overtime bills was run up by the Department of Transportation which, earlier in the year, was suffering from manpower shortages — particularly in engineering. Again, pay raises for engineering positions have enabled NDOT to reduce its vacancy rate to just 8 percent.

Together, those three agencies account for more than $26 million. The remaining 93 agencies on the list reported a total of just over $8 million in overtime costs this fiscal year, which ends this month.