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I-Team 10: State overtime soars

Posted at: 02/26/2013 6:10 AM
Updated at: 02/26/2013 7:21 PM
By: Brett Davidsen

The governor says the cost of state government is down, but an I-Team 10 investigation finds that overtime among state workers has soared. Your tax dollars paid out more than half a billion dollars in overtime just last year.

The average household income in Monroe County is about $52,000. Yet nearly 300 state workers made more than that in taxpayer overtime alone.

When it comes to racking up state overtime, there are few better than Eugene Jones.   The mental health therapy aide works at the Rochester Psychiatric Center. He pulled in more than $88,000 last year in overtime, more than double his base salary, logging more than 2,500 hours of overtime last year.

News10NBC's Brett Davidsen said, “He's making $43,000 a year and people look at this and say, how can this guy make double his salary in overtime alone?”

Flo Tripi, regional president of the Civil Service Employees Union, said, “Well, first of all, Eugene, is an exemplary employee.”

Flo Tripi is regional president of the Civil Service Employees Union, which represents Jones.

Tripi said, “His life is his work. He enjoys it. Clients like him. Employees like him, so he's one of these people willing to work overtime if people cannot work overtime."  

Jones' name appears among the top 20 state employee overtime earners for the third straight year. Through a freedom of information request, I-Team 10 obtained overtime records for every state worker earning overtime in New York.

The numbers are staggering. Overtime for state government workers last year totaled $521 million, that's up $52 million from the year before with workers putting in $13.2 million overtime hours. Five people made more than $100,000 in overtime.

Sam Hoyt is in the governor's cabinet  and came to Rochester to talk about his boss's budget. So I-Team 10 directed his attention to some of those overtime figures.

Sam Hoyt said, “There will be excuses and examples given as to why a specific individual may have been able to accumulate $88,000, but it is an errant problem as evidenced by those numbers."
    
I-Team 10 tried to catch up with Jones at the psych center, but the person who greeted me would only say that even if he was there, Jones wouldn't be allowed to talk while at work.  He didn't respond to other requests for an interview.

Davidsen said, “But is it fair to be putting Jones or any other overtime earners under the microscope for taking on added work? After all, it has to be approved by a manager.

I-Team 10 asked that of the psych center where Jones works and they referred us to the Office of Mental Health in Albany.  Another dead end, but we didn't stop there.

Davidsen said, “Are they mismanaging their staff by allowing somebody to have to work or creating a situation where somebody has 2500 hours of overtime?”

Tripi said, “Well, I think that management is up a creek without a paddle because they are, by law, they have to staff the units."

Okay, so if the employees aren't to blame and management isn't to blame. Who is responsible for spending all that taxpayer money on overtime? I-Team 10 went up the chain until we reached the top.

Speaking to a crowd in Rochester last week, I-Team 10 caught up with the governor after wards to ask him.

Davidsen said, “How does the state justify that and how do you reign it in this year in the budget?”

Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “Well, overall, our costs are going down. The individual budget items might be interesting, but from my point of view, from the taxpayer's point of view, are they paying more taxes or less taxes? Is the workforce bigger or is the workforce smaller? The workforce is smaller and they're paying less taxes."

Indeed, in agencies under the governor's control, the number of jobs has shrunk by more than 18,000 since 2008.

Cuomo said, "We have to get by with less."

But is cutting back on the staff really the best way to save? The union says more government jobs, not less, would lead to bigger cost savings.

Tripi said,  “You're definitely talking about a number of employees that could be hired that would save a significant amount of that money."

Hoyt said, "I don't know that adding employees is the solution to reducing overtime. We have to do a better job, and it's up to, not only the executive branch and the governor's office, but the agencies specifically to rein in these costs."

I-Team 10 checked the governor's statements with the state budget office and their data backs that up. In 2008, there were 137,000 state employees subject to the governor's control in the budget at a personnel cost of $4.2 billion. This year, that number is 118,000 employees at a cost of $3.9 billion.