- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania state workers were paid a two-decade high of $250 million in overtime last year, an increase of nearly 10 percent over 2014, according to a report.

An analysis of payroll records by The Sunday Times of Scranton (https://bit.ly/2aG1ai6) showed a five-year trend of increased use of overtime, a trend the newspaper said was driven by hiring freezes and unfilled vacancies.

The need for around-the-clock medical care at state hospitals and state police staffing for Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia in September are other major factors driving the hike in state government overtime.

The paper said prison overtime has doubled since 2010, from $49 million to $100 million, while its workforce and the number of prisoners are both down by nearly 3 percent over that period. Prison overtime rose by $23 million last year alone.

The state’s payroll last year for all workers under the governor’s jurisdiction, salary and overtime combined, was about $4.4 billion.

The nonpartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee is currently examining the benefits of utilizing prison overtime versus hiring more staff.

“The study should give us a better understanding of why overtime costs continue to soar while the inmate population declines,” Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, told the newspaper. He worries the increased hours may take a toll on correctional officers.

Prison vacancies reached a peak of 1,500 because of a hiring freeze several years ago, but dropped to less than 500 by April. It can take a year for new officer to be fully trained on the job.

“The ultimate goal is to keep overtime spending down, but the reality is our agency experiences an average of 600 correctional officer separations/transfers/retirements per year,” said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sue McNaughton.

Pennsylvania’s 16,000-employee Department of Human Services racked up almost $37 million in overtime last year for a one-year increase of $5.5 million. It was largely attributed to the need for doctors and nurses to care for patients in state hospitals and centers.

“For DHS doctors, overtime pay stems from the doctors’ need to respond to calls within 20 minutes when they are on standby while on campus but off-duty,” said Dan Egan with the Department of Administration.

DHS said some of its overtime last year came from implementation of new child protection laws passed in response to the Jerry Sandusky and Roman Catholic clergy child sexual abuse scandals.

Despite Pope Francis’ trip to Philadelphia that required about 800 troopers and other state police personnel, producing a $700,000 overtime bill for the agency, the $27 million figure for 2015 overtime spending was down $4 million from the year before. State police spent about $7 million in overtime during the seven-week manhunt in the Poconos for slaying suspect Eric Frein in 2014.


Information from: The Times-Tribune, https://thetimes-tribune.com/

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