Drop In Overtime Costs At Jail Leads Countywide Decline
County on pace for 8 percent drop in overtime costs.
Employees at the Bergen County Jail racked up $1.72 million worth of overtime in 2010, more than twice as much as the majority of county departments.
The four highest overtime recipients in the county were corrections officers, including two men who boosted their six-figure salaries by more than 60 percent by collecting a combined $129,516 in extra pay.
In fact, jail workers dominated the rankings of county overtime earners in 2010, with five corrections officers in the top 10, and 10 in the top 20.
“We came in with the intent to do something about that,’’ said Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino, who took office in January.
The numbers indicate that Saudino has begun tackling overtime at the jail.
County payroll records provided to Patch through the Open Public Records Act show that jail employees have collected $996,305 in overtime through the end of September, putting them on pace for an annual total of $1.32 million, which would represent a 23 percent reduction from the $1.72 million in 2010.
And although two corrections officers remain first and second in the county’s individual overtime rankings in 2011, there are now just three among the top 10 and five among the top 20. Even the top individual earner is on pace to make 10 percent less in overtime than he did last year.
The savings at the jail are the main reason Bergen County government’s overall overtime spending is on the decline this year.
After paying out $6,869,307 in overtime to 1,629 employees last year, Bergen County is on pace for a $6,297,008 tab in 2011, which would be about an 8 percent drop, if the pace continues through the holidays.
The numbers do not account for any overtime costs related to the October snowstorm that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands and littered streets with tree limbs.
Republican Freeholder John Mitchell, the finance chairman, said he was not surprised by the reduction in overtime costs.
“When we were working on the 2011 budget [overtime spending] was one of our major focuses," Mitchell said. "In my judgment, there are emergencies and non-emergencies. Overtime should be spent on emergencies, not as a regular thing.’’
Democratic Freeholder David Ganz said he was disappointed during the budget process when his Republican colleagues didn’t implement his suggestions for even greater overtime cuts. But he concedes that the Republicans have reduced the overtime bill.
“I think they’re entitled to take credit for it,’’ Ganz said.
This past year, Republicans took control of the freeholder board as well as the county executive and sheriff jobs. Jeanne Baratta, the chief of staff for County Executive Kathleen Donovan, attributed the overtime reduction more to a general mandate under the new administration than to any specific policy changes.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter type thing,’’ Baratta said. “Every department is different.”
Increases and Decreases
An analysis of county payroll data shows that among the 10 departments and divisions with the highest overtime costs last year, six are on pace for an increase and four – including the jail – are on pace for a decrease.
- The county nursing home in Rockleigh spent $984,965 on overtime in 2010 and is on pace to cut that to $797,598 in 2011, a more than 20 percent drop.
- The sheriff’s non-jail operations spent $317,528 in overtime in 2010 and are on pace for $273,127, a decline of almost 14 percent.
- The county clerk’s office spent $316,808 in overtime in 2010 and is on pace for $123,528 in 2011, a more than 60 percent cut.
Baratta said this year’s unusual weather – including record-setting snowfall in January and a hurricane in late August – made it difficult to keep overtime spending down in some areas. The numbers bear her out. Many of the departments whose duties would increase during extreme weather showed increases in overtime so far this year.
- The county police are on pace to spend $973,050 on overtime in 2011, up from $845,924 in 2010, a 15 percent jump.
- The parks department is on pace to spend $482,441 on overtime in 2011, up from $437,004, a 10 percent increase.
- General Services, which operates county buildings, is on pace to spend $318,448, up from $258,434, an increase of 23 percent
- Emergency management is on pace to spend $289,971, up from $227,121, a 27 percent rise.
- Public works is on pace to spend $225,205, up from $148,133, a jump of 52 percent.
- The prosecutor’s office spent $561,785 on overtime in 2010 and is on pace for $591,706 in 2011, a 5 percent increase.
Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said his office’s records actually show a reduction in overtime spending.
“You may see dollars out [that are] greater since at times we pay for police agencies that spend a lot of OT on local cases,” Molinelli wrote in an email.
He said the Prosecutor’s Office paid all of the overtime that Paramus accrued during the investigation into the shooting of Officer Rachel Morgan, supplied more than $100,000 in overtime money for local police to run drunk driving checkpoints this summer, and just reimbursed the county $70,000 for overtime incurred during the 9/11 weekend.
“Our OT used to be quite high, but in 2003 we went to a [4 p.m. to midnight] shift which cut our OT in half,” Molinelli wrote. “We have been consistent ever since.”
Changes in the Jail
No county department has registered a change in overtime spending – in sheer dollars – as large as the one at the jail.
Saudino attributed the overtime cut to several initiatives. First, the sheriff said, he has consolidated several assignments at the jail, which reduces the overtime that’s needed when officers go on vacation or get sick.
For example, high-risk inmates have been relocated to adjoining cell blocks instead of being kept in two separate sections of the jail, Saudino said. As result, instead of having two sets of two corrections officers monitor the high-risk inmates, now there’s one officer for each cellblock and a third posted between them.
“I took four positions and made them three,’’ Saudino said.
Another change involved convincing local police departments to bring more of the people they arrest who are injured or mentally troubled to a cell block at Bergen County Regional Medical Center in Paramus, where a corrections officer works a regular shift standing guard over them, Saudino said. In the past, municipal police frequently took people they arrested to local hospitals for care, which forced the county jail to send two corrections officers out on overtime to guard them, he said.
Saudino also attributed the decline in overtime to improved morale, which he said has resulted in fewer sick calls.
“Morale is better than it has been, that’s true,’’ said Edward Brunner, president of Policemen’s Benevolent Association, Local 134, which represents county sheriff’s and corrections officers.
Brunner said Saudino’s administration also has imposed stricter enforcement of sick time policies, which has cut overtime.
“I absolutely believe they’re being reasonable about it,’’ said the union president, who is running for county freeholder this year as an independent candidate. “They’re not going after anybody.’’
But Brunner said the union was “not all that happy” about the consolidation of corrections officer jobs at the jail.
“Our first concern is officer safety,’’ said Brunner. “It’s still safe at the jail, but it would be safer if we had those posts back.’’
Payroll records for the county show that a corrections officer, Daniel Marro, was Bergen County’s top individual overtime earner in 2010 and again is on pace to be at the top of the list in 2011.
Last year, Marro collected $67,918 in overtime in addition to his regular salary of $106,319. Through the end of September, Marro had made $38,664 in overtime in 2011 on top of his year-to-date salary of $85,925.
When asked about Marro’s repeat performance at the top of the overtime list, Saudino said, “When there’s overtime available, some guys will always take it and some guys turn it down.’’
The jail and sheriff’s divisions offer overtime on a rotating basis to all officers, Saudino and Brunner said. But some regular jobs at the jail also involve extra overtime because of the nature of the work, Brunner said. Marro, who handles inmates on work release and home release on electronic-monitoring bracelets, has one of those positions, Brunner said.
Study Cites Lack of Controls
The jail was not reviewed in a law enforcement consolidation study released in May. But that report, prepared for the Prosecutor’s Office and paid for with forfeited funds, did examine overtime within the prosecutor’s office, county police and non-jail sheriff’s operations. The study found that none of the three departments had records that showed the specific reasons for all overtime.
“The high rate of overtime paid in the County Police is incompatible with calls for service data and other performance indicators,’’ the study concluded.
The study found Bergen’s law enforcement agencies had limited controls on overtime and failed to sufficiently monitor the spending. The Donovan administration has appointed its own task force to review the consolidation report’s findings.
Meanwhile, officials said that reducing overtime spending in county government will remain a priority.
“We’ve tried every year to get a handle on it,’’ said Ganz, who is in his ninth year on the freeholder board. “Some of it is just programmed in. It drives you crazy.’’
“We’re glad that it’s down, but it’s still a big chunk of money,’’ Baratta said.
Mitchell, the Freeholder finance chairman, said the county needed to do a sweeping “manpower analysis” of the number of employees on the payroll and their job functions.
“It’s a difficult thing and it can be expensive,’’ Mitchell said. “But there’s a return on the investment. It can produce a tremendous amount of dividends.’’