By JOSEPH SPECTOR
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY - Overtime costs at state agencies grew 4.5 percent in 2011, with four state employees earning more than $100,000 in overtime alone, according to records from the state Comptroller's Office.
See a state database on overtime from 2011
Overtime costs grew by $20 million between 2010 and 2011, from $449 million to $469 million -- the most since 2007, the records obtained Monday by Gannett's Albany Bureau showed.
"While many state agencies rely on overtime to meet their needs, it is obviously an ongoing problem area for the state," Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement. "Each agency should do an analysis of their overtime and find ways to reduce its use."
Some agencies said the higher overtime is attributable to tropical storms Irene and Lee last summer, which led to workers putting in extra time to help with recovery efforts and repairing hundreds of roads and bridges.
"The increase in overtime was primarily related to flood relief and recovery, which means a substantial amount of the cost will be reimbursed by the federal government," said Josh Vlasto, spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The highest overtime earners came from the state's psychiatric centers and prisons.
Robert Henry, a treatment assistant at the Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center in Orange County, led the state in overtime for the second year in a row. He earned $123,511 in overtime last year, an extra 2,556 hours of work, or roughly 49 additional hours a week. His base salary was $61,830, the records showed.
Henry was among four state employees to earn more than $100,000 in overtime. Three of the four worked at the state's psychiatric facilities. The fourth, Mercy Mathew, was a nurse at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County. She earned $115,373 in overtime, in addition to her $58,468 salary.
The top overtime earners could not be reached for comment Monday. Henry, who earned about $106,000 in overtime in 2010, told Gannett's Albany Bureau last year that he was fulfilling his role as a "public servant."
A spokeswoman for the Office of Mental Health, which oversees the state's 26 psychiatric hospitals, explained that the facilities run 24 hours a day and must be staffed based on state and federal regulations.
"Any number of factors can influence overtime rates -- storms, retirements, illness," said the spokeswoman, Leesa Rademacher. "OMH facilities managers are required to monitor and minimize overtime while maintaining adequate staffing."
Unions contended that the increase in overtime is related to a decrease in staff at state agencies. In his state budget proposal last week, Cuomo said that in agencies he controls, the number of positions has declined by 16,000 since 2008, a drop of nearly 12 percent to a total of 122,000 workers.
"There has been a hiring freeze in place for some time, and it's not any surprise that it would result in higher overtime costs. What it ends up doing is eating up the savings," said Darcy Wells, spokeswoman for the Public Employees Federation, the state's second largest union that represents about 56,000 workers.
State Police overtime rose to $25.9 million last year, up 7 percent or about $1.8 million, the Comptroller's Office said. Lt. Glenn Miner, a State Police spokesman, said about $1.4 million appears to be related to the storms. The agency hasn't had a new recruiting class since 2008.
In another potential example of workers involved with storm repairs, overtime at the state Department of Transportation grew 44 percent, from nearly $29 million to $41 million.
The largest percentage increase was at the Office of General Services, which also provided storm aid. Overtime rose at the agency by nearly 59 percent, jumping to $2.3 million overall, the Comptroller's Office said.
The state Department of Corrections led the state in overtime costs in 2011 at nearly $104 million, up about 1.6 percent from 2010.
Overtime at the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities rose nearly 17 percent to $94 million, ranking it second among state agencies. The agency has been criticized for a number of problems at its group homes and is undergoing a restructuring.
Overtime decreased at some agencies, the records showed.
It was down 44 percent in the state courts system, which is independent from the executive branch, leading to a drop of about $15 million. It was down nearly 43 percent at the state Department of Taxation and Finance after consolidation efforts, a drop of about $500,000.
Vlasto said Cuomo, who is starting his second year in office, has cut spending by state agencies. The state budget last year cut agencies by 10 percent, and this year the governor is proposing to cut another $1 billion.
-- Overtime costs for state agencies grew by 4.5 percent in 2011, or by $20 million from 2010. They rose from $449 million to $469 million.
-- Four state employees earned more than $100,000 in overtime alone in 2011. The highest earned $123,511 in overtime last year, an extra 2,556 hours of work.
-- State officials said storm relief last summer is the reason for much of the increase. The largest percentage increase was at the Office of General Services, up nearly 59 percent.
-- Some agencies lowered overtime. It was down nearly 43 percent at the state Department of Taxation and Finance, a drop of about $500,000, and down 44 percent in the state courts system, a savings of about $15 million.