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State Agencies Review Overtime Costs

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(Courtesy Department of Social Services)

(Courtesy Department of Social Services)

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By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut state agencies will soon begin reviewing their overtime expenses and possibly coming up with plans to reduce costs.

With a labor savings and concessions deal ratified by unionized state employees, the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is turning its attention to finding ways to cut overtime expenses. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the state spent more than $232 million on overtime, a figure that does not include certain higher education employees.

Malloy has not set a specific goal for cutting costs. He said agency heads will work with the Office of Policy and Management to come up with goals, which the state budget office will track every four weeks.

Benjamin Barnes, the OPM secretary, said he believes overtime expenses can be reduced overall by at least 10 percent.

“Probably we can go more than that, I just don’t know how much more,” Barnes said. “It’s really going to depend on the agencies.”

Malloy first informed his commissioners during a meeting last month that he wants them to focus on reducing overtime. Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs for the governor’s budget office, said Friday that the administration expects to provide overtime targets to agencies within the next few weeks.

OPM plans to provide agency heads with baseline data of their overtime costs, as well a list of employees whose overtime amounts to 50 percent or more of their base salary. Malloy said agencies will have to justify their overtime expenses.

Malloy said agencies whose overtime expense adds up to at least 5 percent of payroll will also have to provide justification. He also noted the state’s pension system allows overtime earnings to be included in benefits calculations _ another added cost to the state

“It’s been on my mind for a long period of time, but obviously I had to get through some other issues,” said Malloy, referring to the state budget process and the labor agreement. “I’ve never hidden that I was concerned about overtime expense, particularly in a system where overtime counts for pension credit.”

Matt O’Connor, a spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, which represents 15 unions, said one major reason for the overtime is short-staffing.

“It’s been vacancies that haven’t been filled, and that’s been a real obstacle to cost-effective delivery of services,” he said.

According to the administration, the Department of Correction paid out the largest amount of overtime in fiscal year 2011, more than $71 million. It was followed by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services at nearly $46 million; the Department of Developmental Services at more than $42 million; the Department of Public Safety, which includes the state police, at $23.6 million; the Department of Transportation at $18.7 million; the Department Children and Families at $18.5 million; and the Judicial Branch at a more than $4 million.

Public colleges and universities receive block grants from the state government rather than line-item appropriations and track their overtime expenses separately, although the administration is trying to get them to participate in the same system used by state agencies.

Barnes said he expect overtime expenses at some agencies, especially smaller ones, will be negligible. He said the policy office, for example, has mostly salaried employees who don’t receive overtime pay. A lot of hazardous duty jobs, such as the corrections officers, lead to large amounts of overtime pay because they need to provide services 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.

Part of the process of working with the agencies will involve looking at whether it makes more financial sense to pay the overtime rather than hire more employees or vice versa.

“I’m not trying to discourage overtime where it’s appropriate,” Malloy said. “I’m trying to discourage overtime where it’s not appropriate … and that may mean in some situations we may have to move staff around. We may have too few people doing a particular job which then drives overtime. In other cases, there may be access to other ways of providing the service.”

O’Connor said those questions should be discussed by a labor-management committee that was included in the new labor savings and concessions agreement and charged with coming up with ways to save the state money. He said it shouldn’t be left to just Malloy’s commissioners.

“We should be part of helping to determine the path forward,” O’Connor said. “After all, if this is the work force that is being asked to fill in for all of those shortfalls, we’ve got some ideas on how to resolve them.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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