Ideas Offered To Cut State’s Annual $250 Million Overtime Bill

http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc-lender-column-overtime-1030-20111030,0,1168098.column

Jon Lender

Government Watch
October 30, 2011

The first ideas by top state officials on how to shovel out from under Connecticut’s $250 million annual overtime-pay avalanche include proposals to book overtime shifts only 24 hours in advance, instead of two weeks — and to formally evaluate government managers on how well they cut down on subordinates’ overtime pay.

A month ago Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget director, Ben Barnes, ordered six agencies that pay the most overtime to submit plans on how to cut 10 percent from their OT totals between now and June 30, 2012 — and thus help achieve a $25 million statewide reduction.

The plans, turned in by Oct. 21, were obtained by The Courant last week via a Freedom of Information Act request.

They can hardly be considered a detailed road map to a 10 percent across-the-board reduction. Some officials even wrote about facing imperatives that could increase their overtime expenditures for a time. Others offered a solution for eliminating overtime that Barnes’ office that might not completely accept: hire more full-timers to reduce the need to fill shifts via OT. After looking at them for the first time last week, Barnes didn’t sound quite as confident about meeting his first-year reduction goal.

However, a few of the plans showed some new ideas, whether or not they’ll pan out. Here, for example, are a couple of excerpts from the Department of Children and Families’ plan, which drew the most praise from Barnes last week:

  • •Managers will only “book each day’s overtime shifts 24 hours in advance” at DCF’s round-the-clock operations, such as the Riverview psychological hospital for youths and the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, both in Middletown, according to the plan prepared by DCF’s fiscal services director, Cindy Butterfield. Previously, managers would schedule employees to fill empty shifts by use of “rotation lists,” but “this practice is now changing … because it is believed that there are many variables that can occur in a two-week period that might make a shift [of] overtime unnecessary when the day actually arrives on the schedule.”
  • •In DCF’s area office system, “all overtime assignments will be filled by the appropriate job class,” and “employees at a higher job class will not be filling in for lower-paid employees,” according to Butterfield’s report. “Individual managers [will be] accountable for the use of overtime within their unit,” and, statewide, “managers have been notified that overtime usage will be considered to be a general performance indicator.”

DCF’s annual overtime bill of $17.7 million ranked sixth among state agencies in the 12-month budget year that ended June 30. That was nearly $48 million behind the highest OT total of $65.3 million spent by the Department of Correction. The four departments in between were: Mental Health and Addiction Services, $44.3 million; Developmental Services, $39.7 million; Emergency Services and Public Protection, $25.2 million; and Transportation, $23 million.

“What I liked about DCF’s plan is that they’re trying to be creative within the rules and constraints that they have,” Barnes said in an interview Friday. He praised the “attention to detail” in the report, including “accountability provisions” that say “people will be evaluated based on their performance relative to these overtime goals, in addition to all the other things they get evaluated for.”

Asked if the plans give him confidence that the Malloy administration can reach its goal of cutting overtime by $25 million between now and the end of this fiscal year, June 30, 2012, Barnes hedged and said, “I don’t know whether we get to our 10 percent,” considering that the OT-cutting effort is gearing up more than three months after the July 1 start of the budget year, but, if not, he said he hopes the goal can be reached over a full year.

Some of the agencies’ proposals for overtime reduction depend heavily on hiring new employees to fill numerous vacancies that have lasted since the Rell administration’s retirement incentive program and hiring freeze.

The mental health department, for example, said in its overtime-reduction plan that it has already “received approval … to hire 95 critical positions, of which 40 were specifically targeted to reduce overtime” at its huge Connecticut Valley Hospital complex in Middletown, and is now “in the recruitment process to hire these staff.”

“CVH last fiscal year accounted for 95% of the Department’s mandatory overtime and 74% of the Department’s total overtime expenditures,” said the plan submitted by agency Commissioner Pat Rehmer. “It is estimated that [an] additional 56 positions will reduce overtime by an additional $1.2 million … [and] the complete DMHAS Overtime Reduction Plan if approved will reduce overtime expenditures by $3.8 million” for the 12-month period ending next June 30.

Balancing Act

Barnes said his office plans to be extremely careful about filling full-time jobs to cut down on overtime pay, because it’s no good to eliminate overtime by filling shifts with newly hired employees whose straight-time pay offsets the OT reduction. “We’re only going to do it in certain circumstances,” such as cases in which there’s “mandatory overtime, at double-time rates, with brutal hours just to keep shifts covered.”

“There may be a tolerable level of overtime that makes fiscal sense,” he said, adding that it will take “sophisticated” analysis and the balancing of various factors — such as tolerating only a certain amount of overtime, and making sure that it is shared more equally among employees instead of spiking a worker’s salary in the three years on which the employee’s pension will be based.

Now that the reports from the major overtime-payers have been submitted, Barnes’ office will evaluate them and work with the agencies to develop final plans — which will go into effect in coming weeks. Once in effect, agencies will have to report monthly on their progress, Barnes said.

Common threads run through all the newly submitted plans. They generally involve closer scrutiny and tighter documentation of the need for overtime. They are following Barnes’ order to keep tabs on which employees are making OT amounting to half-again or more of their regular pay.

“Each manager will be held accountable for their monthly overtime expenditures in excess of the budgeted amounts for their specific assignments,” said the plan submitted by the emergency services department, which includes the state police.

The police agency had reduced its overtime in the first three months of the current fiscal year by $742,513, the report said, but “the amount of overtime for the month of September will be significantly higher as the result of the fifty six … Connecticut State Police Trooper layoffs.” Now that Malloy has rescinded the trooper layoffs, the report added, overtime will be reduced by $107,000 during each two-week pay period.

Prison System

At the correction department, an administrator said in an email last week that officials in the statewide prison system have recently been concentrating on “the need for improvement in the area of absenteeism” and “patterns of possible misuse of sick time,” the department’s report said. Employees sometimes are paid overtime to fill the shifts of absent workers.

Correction Commissioner Leo Arnone said in his Oct. 17 report to Barnes that distribution of overtime among correctional officers is subject to restrictions including “protocols” and “contractual language” in labor agreements. He also said that overtime has been driven up by hundreds of vacancies.

“Since January 2010 our records indicate more than 900 positions have been lost as a result of retirements, attrition and layoffs,” Arnone wrote. “In the same period we have hired only 251 employees to our agency. Although the Department has worked aggressively to lower overtime expenditures during the past two fiscal years, the historical decisions not to fully staff our agency have resulted in very significant overtime expenditures.”

“The combination of filling essential vacant posts and the implementation of … initiatives to reduce our prison population” — such as a new “Risk Reduction Earned Credit” initiative giving inmates earlier releases if they go through self-improvement programs in prison — “will provide for a significant reduction in overtime.”

DOT

The transportation department’s plan said that although DOT “will continue to monitor and manage the overtime associated with snow and ice, it should be noted that these expenditures are contingent on several elements which are outside of the Department’s control, such as the number of storms, intensity of the storm, duration, day of the week the storm falls on and the Department’s resources.”

The DOT report also said it needs to make sure that roads are clear and safe at other times — mentioning “two tropical storms, which caused moderate to severe flooding” in the past year. “Based on our experience, the frequency of these events were abnormal compared to prior years, which accounts for the unusually high overtime.”

However, the report said that DOT has implemented a series of overtime reports that “are enabling each Bureau Chief to perform a comprehensive review.” The department “has reduction targets for appropriated non-snow overtime,” the report said, and it plans to look at areas “whereby right sizing” — hiring employees, that is — “will produce overtime savings.”

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant’s investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at jlender@courant.com, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender.

Copyright © 2011, The Hartford Courant

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