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Overtime paid to Wis. state workers increased

Despite the largest projected budget shortfall in Wisconsin history, overtime paid to state employees increased in 2008.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Despite the largest projected budget shortfall in Wisconsin history, overtime paid to state employees increased in 2008.

The state Audit Bureau reported Friday that the state paid more than $66 million in overtime last year, including nearly $98,000 to one nurse at the Mendota Mental Health Hospital.

Overall, overtime was up 2.2 percent increase from 2007. That increase could be due in part to the fact that there was an extra two-week pay period in 2008, something the Audit Bureau said happens once a decade.

In light of a projected $5 billion budget shortfall, Gov. Jim Doyle last year ordered a moratorium in state employee raises and bonuses, but he did not put a cap on overtime. His spokesman Lee Sensenbrenner said Friday that in many cases overtime was unavoidable because services have to be provided. Overtime also is needed to protect public safety, he added.

Four state agencies that have 24-hour operations or must respond to emergencies had the most overtime in 2008. They were the Department of Corrections ($33.4 million), Department of Health Services ($10.3 million), Department of Transportation ($3.6 million) and the Department of Natural Resources ($2.1 million).

Only the Department of Corrections had a decrease in overtime paid between 2007 and 2008, the report said. It dropped nearly 4 percent.

Last year, the departments of Corrections and Health Services blamed the high overtime costs on a shortage of workers needed to meet required public safety and staffing requirements.

The Corrections Department has taken a number of steps to lower overtime, including tapping pools of available workers to staff shifts that normally would be worked by others on overtime, said agency spokesman John Dipko.

Overtime at DHS rose 8.4 percent.

"Obviously the increase is more than we would like to see," department spokesman Seth Boffeli said.

The department is working on ways to reduce it, but that's difficult at Mendota, Boffeli said. Staffing levels there are set by the federal government, patients are sent through by the courts, and many of them require one-on-one care.

"We're seeing improvements all across the board, but Mendota continues to be a challenge," he said.

The report found 25 Corrections and Health Services workers who earned more than $50,000 each in overtime last year.

Six of the 10 employees who received the most overtime between 2005 and 2007 had a drop in payments last year. One retired in 2008.

Boffeli said DHS was looking into the case of the Mendota nurse who earned nearly $98,000 in overtime last year and whether limits could be placed on how much overtime is earned. He said that case was not the norm for the department.

Since 2005, the state has paid nearly $254 million in overtime.

The report was a follow-up to an audit released last year that looked at overtime paid between 2005 and 2007. At that time the Audit Bureau recommended that the departments of Corrections and Health Services submit options for reducing overtime by Jan. 5, but they have requested additional time to prepare their reports.

The audits did not include overtime paid to employees of the University of Wisconsin System, the Legislature, and the courts because those workers are paid through other payroll systems.