Prison board considers fill-ins for overtime issue

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The chairman of the Blair County Prison Board said he wants to determine if the answer to the overtime problem could be the use of fill-in, or part-time workers.

The Prison Board has authorized the hiring of 35 fill-ins, but it is difficult to maintain a full contingent, according to prison officials who discussed the overtime issue Thursday during a meeting of the prison board at the courthouse.

Sheriff Mitchell Cooper, who has been chairman of the board since January, pointed out that the prison can use fill-ins, who initially are paid more than $13-per-hour, only 56 hours in a two-week pay period at an hourly rate lower than full-time officers.

Sometimes fill-ins are frustrated that they don’t get that much time, causing them to move on, both Cooper and Warden Michael M. Johnston pointed out.

County Commissioners were stunned Tuesday when it was reported by Commissioner Terry Tomassetti that overtime at the prison amounted to more than $17,000 for the March 15-28 pay period.

Overtime for four previous pay periods was $563, $2,300, $4,583 and $6,488, respectively.

Despite the relatively low overtime being paid in January and February, the $17,000 in late March has pushed the overtime average to $1,000 over the budgeted amount per pay period.

The overtime budget for the prison this year is $150,000, meaning the county, at the present rate, will end up spending $176,000.

The issue isn’t simple, Cooper said Thursday.

Cooper said the first step is to get a better understanding of what is causing the overtime.

Statistics put together by a prison employee show that call-offs by officers contribute to the overtime. For instance the late March statistics show 56 call-offs during the two weeks, meaning those officers had to

be replaced.

But as the statistics also show, officers are involved in tasks like medical transports, inmate transports to the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, overseeing inmates in the prison laundry (a separate facility), transporting inmates to Central Court in Altoona and training new cadets, among others.

If the present 26 fill-ins can’t cover the need for officers on a particular day, then overtime ends up being paid.

Cooper said the first attempt that will be made is to bring overtime back within budget.

The next step would be an attempt to reduce the overtime as a whole.

The question that will be examined over the next month is whether the fill-ins will be able to cover what

is now being paid in overtime.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.