Comptroller’s Audit Finds Administrative Breakdown In Nassau County Jail (12-16-04)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 16, 2004

COMPTROLLER’S AUDIT FINDS ADMINISTRATIVE BREAKDOWN IN NASSAU COUNTY JAIL

Overtime Up 100% in Four Years to $20 Million; Total Compensation for Some Correction Officers Nears $200K; Jail’s Personnel Unit in Disarray

An audit of the Nassau County Correctional Center has uncovered a pattern of uncontrolled costs and an overall failure to supervise personnel time and leave, Comptroller Howard S. Weitzman said today.

“This report leads inescapably to the conclusion that there has been a serious administrative failure at the correctional center,” Comptroller Weitzman said at a news conference this morning. “The result of lax supervision has been exorbitant personnel costs and widespread abuse of time and leave.  Our auditors found that there are very loose controls over the granting and management of overtime, compensatory time and various kinds of leave.

“Although it’s impossible to assess exactly how much of the overtime and other kinds of pay could have been avoided, I believe the number is in the millions of dollars,” he said.

The audit, covering a period from 2002 through April 2004, found that overtime for corrections officers was granted without proper authorization and without verifying hours worked.  The cost of such overtime has almost doubled over the past four years, from $10.3 million in 2000, to $20 million in 2003.  The 10 top overtime earners in 2003 had total compensation ranging from $137,000 to $197,000, on base salaries of $71,495.

“Let me be clear,” Mr. Weitzman said.  “Employees are entitled to overtime that is legitimately earned, and there may well be times when overtime is necessary and proper.  Our audit, however, raises serious doubts about the legitimacy of many of the jail’s overtime practices.  In short, it is apparent that the jail administrators have failed to manage costs.”

Among the other major findings of the audit:

  • The $20 million cost of overtime in 2003 included expenditures for 32 correctional officers who each earned more than $50,000 in overtime.  Six of the top 10 overtime earners were in a single unit (transportation), including one whose overtime earnings alone topped $118,000 (see table, p.3).
  • The position of Commissioner of Corrections has gone unfilled for more than four years, despite a requirement in the county’s charter that the Sheriff shall appoint such a commissioner.
  • The jail’s personnel unit is in disarray and has had three different supervisors in one year.  The unit does not routinely review and verify overtime claims before entering them into the county payroll system.
  • No controls were in place to prevent duplicate entries for overtime claims in the payroll system.  As a result, the Payroll Division of the Comptroller’s Office reports finding, during the audit period, an average of 10 duplicate entries for overtime pay per pay period.
  • Top administrators at the Correctional Center self-authorized thousands of hours of ‘comp’ time before the practice was curtailed in 2003.
  • The jail overpaid at least $300,000 in shift differential.
  • Requests for supplemental sick leave at half-pay were not properly authorized by the department or confirmed by doctors.
  • The personnel unit and higher-level administrators failed to monitor or control unreasonable costs for bereavement leave, “donated” leave, and military leave.

“We are talking about expenditures with an enormous impact on our budget.  It is absolutely critical to Nassau’s financial health that Corrections be well managed.  The jail’s administrators have failed, despite repeated warnings from the Comptroller’s Office, to implement corrective measures to control costs.”

Overtime Spending and Excessive ‘Comp’ Time

“Overtime has been chronically high at the jail for a decade,” Mr. Weitzman said.  “Today’s audit finally helps us understand why.  Although staff reductions and a burgeoning inmate population are partially to blame, that is far from the whole story.  The problem is, in a word, mismanagement.

N. C. CORRECTIONAL CENTER: TOP 10 OVERTIME EARNERS (2003)

Employee Total 2003 

Earnings

Overtime 

Earnings

Work Location
1 $197,460 $118,330 Transportation
2 $174,683 $ 93,535 Recreation 4
3 $146,416 $ 73,475 Transportation
4 $155,272 $ 72,611 Platoon 9
5 $144,577 $ 69,840 Transportation
6 $140,075 $ 69,143 Medical
7 $141,341 $ 65,178 Transportation
8 $138,132 $ 64,242 Transportation
9 $137,113 $ 63,191 Transportation
10 $141,940 $ 62,758 Recreation 5

Source: Nassau County Comptroller’s Office

“The starting pay for a newly hired correction officer is currently $25,000, increasing to $34,666 within a year.  For the money it spent on just the overtime for the top 10 overtime earners, Corrections could have hired approximately 15 additional officers, including the cost of their fringe benefits,” Mr. Weitzman noted.

“Correctional Center management, in its response to the audit, asserts that overtime cannot be ‘excessive’ if it is earned.  I disagree,” Comptroller Weitzman said.  “By definition, a correction officer with a base pay of $71,495, who has earned $118,330 in overtime, has worked an excessive amount of overtime.  Similarly, a correction officer who has taken leave on 160 out of 307 scheduled workdays, yet managed to increase his or her ‘comp’ time balance during the same period, has earned excessive overtime and used excessive absences.”

The need for overtime springs in part from staff reductions, Mr. Weitzman noted.  Since 2000, the number of jail employees decreased by 138, even as the number of inmates increased by 245.  The Correctional Center, however, bases the number of posts it must fill on a staffing analysis performed by the New York State Commission of Correction that itself may be outdated, as it was based on a previous analysis from 1995.  The elimination of posts may also require changes to current labor agreements.  “A rethinking of minimum staffing requirements is overdue,” he said.

“Moreover, it is clear from the audit that the problems at the jail go deeper than just overtime – administrators are allowing certain types of leave to be granted improperly.  An egregious example of this occurred between 2000 and 2002, when two of the jail’s top administrators improperly granted themselves thousands of hours of compensatory time – equivalent to each one taking over one year off – in violation of county rules prohibiting discretionary overtime for such top administrators, except in extraordinary circumstances.  The equivalent value of all that ‘comp’ time was $194,000.  This practice came to an abrupt end in 2003, following news accounts of the granting of excessive ‘comp’ time to the county’s non-union employees.”

Shift Differential and Improperly Granted Leave

The Correctional Center also overpaid for shift differential – extra pay for night work – for 2002 and 2003.  The Center’s personnel unit routinely granted 80 hours of shift differential, regardless of whether officers worked 72 or 80 hours in a pay period.  In other cases, it granted 40 hours of shift differential to all employees of certain platoons, without regard to the actual number of hours worked.  The excess payments totaled approximately $300,000.

In other examples of waste and avoidable costs, extra sick leave at half-pay (granted when normal sick leave allotments are exhausted) was often given without required medical documentation or authorization from supervisors.  In all, 930 days of this type of leave were granted in 2002-3, of which only 223 days were authorized, resulting in $82,000 of unauthorized payments.   Two employees, who had been working part-time prior to their illness, were returned to full-time status at the same time they were granted extended sick leave at half-pay, in an apparent effort to increase their payments.  Similar abuses and lack of internal review and controls were found in the granting of bereavement leave, firefighting leave, military leave, and leave voluntarily “donated” from one employee to another.

The full audit report may be downloaded from the Comptroller’s Web site at

http://www.nassaucountyny.gov/comptroller/index.html.

end

Advertisements