Luzerne County government spent $1.1 million on overtime last year — more than half of that amount at the prison.
The prison was budgeted $400,422 for overtime last year and ended up paying $579,858, according to a report from the county controller’s office.
The county’s 2013 budget raised expectations for prison overtime cuts, allocating $400,000.
County Manager Robert Lawton told council this week he is monitoring prison overtime expenses and will update council on the status of all spending and revenue in his first-quarter financial report, which is scheduled for May 14.
Council members have been pressing for updates on finances because this year’s $122.25 million general fund budget contains a $4.3 million void that must be filled by seeking a cash advance on unpaid delinquent taxes if additional savings and revenue don’t materialize. This cash advance is viewed as a last resort because it comes with additional fees.
Lawton said he has stressed the importance of meeting budget targets to all managers.
“Nobody gets a gold star for spending all their money,” he said.
Acting Prison Warden James Larson could not be reached for comment on the prison’s overtime expenses Thursday.
Former Prison Warden Joseph Piazza has blamed the overtime tab on the need to comply with the union contract, which requires a set number of on-duty prison guards on each shift and “generous quantities” of days off for workers. That union contract expires the end of this year, and the union has the right to binding arbitration if negotiations fail.
Prison overtime expenses have fluctuated in recent years, ranging from $872,000 in 2007 to a low of $400,422 in 2010.
911 overtime goal
The 911 department had the second highest overtime expense last year — $191,072, the report said.
County 911 Executive Director Dave Parsnik said he is trying to reduce overtime this year to hit a budget target of $135,000 by reducing staffing requirements on each shift.
Parsnik said the department had 13 dispatchers on first and second shifts last year and 10 on the third shift. He reviewed the union contract and determined he can reduce that by one employee on each shift.
“This year we’re working smarter to get the same amount of work done with less overtime,” Parsnik said. “We have a good group of dispatchers, and they’re getting the job done.”
He stressed he must still call in additional workers on overtime during wide-scale emergencies, such as snowstorms, when the 911 center is slammed with calls.
Here’s the breakdown of departments that had overtime expenses exceeding $10,000 last year: election, $22,312; security, $18,659; clerk of courts, $14,486; district attorney, $29,662; sheriff, $57,532; probation, $48,012; road and bridge, $42,183; and children and youth, $51,852.
Overtime in the clerk of courts office was permitted to address a criminal record processing backlog that sparked concerns from court officials who rely on timely filing and posting of records, officials said.
County election officials requested overtime authorization last fall to address additional work stemming from the November general election.
County Controller Walter Griffith also said he is analyzing overtime and expenses and will soon present his findings to council.
Griffith said $464,947 was spent on overtime countywide this year to date.
The county’s overall overtime spending has decreased compared to 2009, 2010 and 2011, when the cost ranged from $1.7 million to around $2 million, records showed.