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St. Lawrence County reviews overtime


CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators is reviewing a spike in overtime costs so it can stay true to a five-year fiscal plan meant to drop property taxes and then keep them within the state’s tax cap.

From 2011 through 2012, overtime across all departments rose $162,000, up from $890,919 to $1.05 million.

County officials pledged to state Senate representatives that they would toe the budgetary line if they receive an increase in the local sales tax.

“I, for one, will keep to my word,” said Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg. “We’re got to do something with overtime.”

The largest increases were in the sheriff’s department, county jail, emergency services, community services, and public health. Overtime dropped in social services, highway, the district attorney’s office, the County Clerk’s Office, Office for the Aging, the treasurer’s office, and solid waste.

Overtime in the sheriff’s department rose from $185,682 to $284,017. In the jail, the overtime went from $128,122 to $170,456.

“The whole thing is we don’t have enough people. Every day we’re canceling a dentist’s appointment for an inmate so we don’t bring someone in,” Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said. “So much of our schedule is controlled by mandate. You’ve got a very unpredictable County Court schedule. It’s just crisis every day.”

The sheriff’s department went to 12-hour shifts several years ago.

“We had to find a way to become more efficient with the amount of people we had,” Sheriff Wells said.

The department recently tweaked the schedule to try to control overtime at the same time it is being overrun with pistol permit application investigations.

“It’s a scheduling nightmare for us,” he said.

The jail is continually short on staff because two corrections officers are out on workers compensation, Sheriff Wells said.

In any case, the figures are not as bad as they might appear at first glance because they do not include reimbursement of at least $40,000.

In addition, overtime is not necessarily a dirty word because it can save the county from hiring additional people and paying for fringe benefits, Sheriff Wells said.

Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire suggested part-time officers to fill in holes in the schedule, but Sheriff Wells dismissed the idea.

“I don’t think that will fly with the union,” he said.

Emergency services has already reworked the schedule of dispatchers to cut overtime costs.

Public health got into a crunch when it lacked enough staff to care for the patients it had in the Certified Home Health Aide program, which is being phased out this year.

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