Prison OT hits $17K in 2-week period

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Despite an ongoing effort to curtail overtime at the Blair County Prison, the two-week payroll for the last two weeks of March contained $17,604 in such compensation.

For the first two weeks of March, the amount of overtime and compensatory time totaled $6,488.

If not a record, the $17,604 stands out as one of the largest amounts, Blair County Commissioner Terry Tomassetti said Monday.

Tomassetti chairs the county salary board that, on a monthly basis, reviews and casts an after-the-fact vote on overtime and compensatory time reports for the most recent pay periods.

When Tomassetti asked during Monday’s salary board meeting for action on the overtime report, Commissioner Diane Meling described it as “regrettable.”

Sheriff Mitchell Cooper, who was not at the salary board meeting, said he was aware of the high amount of overtime for the last pay period in March. Cooper chairs the prison board, which has been trying to address the overtime costs by having the board’s operations committee focus on the reasons.

“I’m confident that our plans, in the long run, will have a significant impact,” Cooper said.

Prison Warden Michael Johnston is working with the operations committees on measures to reduce the amount of call-offs from officers unable to work and on efforts to use part-time and fill-in officers on straight time to fill work shifts that have to be covered.

Because some of the prison’s part-time officers were working full-time hours, or enough hours to qualify for health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, the county changed their status and schedule to full time.

That action also left the prison short of fill-in officers who can take vacant shifts.

The prison staff is making an effort to recruit additional officers, county Human Resources Director Katherine Swigart said Monday.

Tomassetti said the reasons behind the late March overtime included 56 call-offs by corrections officers, coverage of 400 hours for five officers undergoing corrections officers training, 106 hours for corrections officers on military assignments and 120 hours for officers on family medical leave.

Overtime has been an ongoing concern for county leaders.

For 2013, prison employees received $321,000 in overtime payments, an average of $26,700 a month. But throughout the year, it went up and down. In September and October, the overtime during four pay periods totaled $21,746. But for the last two pay periods of December, a time when officers schedule vacations, the overtime added up to $27,746.

In January and February, the overtime dropped again, something the prison administration suggested could be due to fewer employees taking vacation and not having as many hospitalized inmates in need of round-the-clock supervision.

Tomassetti, in reference to most recent overtime report, said there will be “more discussion to address these matters.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.