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State overtime costs increase as workforce numbers decrease


DES MOINES — Overtime costs for state employees has skyrocketed, putting Iowa taxpayers on the hook for an additional $9.4 million in worker costs compared to five years ago, according to an Iowa Watchdog analysis of state figures.

Overtime expenses in fiscal 2011 reached $24.3 million – a 63 percent increase from five years before. Workers  racked up 102,193 overtime days. At least 22 of the state agencies tracked by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services saw overtime increases, while at least 18 more decreased their costs, the analysis showed.

BRANSTAD: Gov. Terry Branstad set the goal of reducing government costs by 15 percent within four years.

In some cases, state employees opted to take comp time instead of the extra dollars. In all, workers took $17.8 million worth of comp time in 2011, the analysis showed. That figure, however, excludes the Iowa Department of Transportation, which accounts for $5.7 million of the state’s overtime costs but was not included in the data because it’s not a part of the state’s central pay system, state officials said. The numbers were not immediately available from the Department of Transportation, which houses the information.

The growth comes as state agencies have grappled with multi-million dollar budget reductions that led them to cut a combined 955 full-time jobs, as well as 552 part-time and temporary positions, according to state figures. State officials were unable to say how much money the cuts saved the Iowa.

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It also offered a setback to Republican Gov. Terry Branstad’s pledge to run a leaner, more efficient state government and cut costs by 15 percent within four years. Branstad took office in January 2011. His office did not return calls seeking comment.

“We have asked department heads to be very careful about it,” said Dave Roederer, director of the Iowa Department of Management. “We have a lot of overtime that is directed by collective bargaining agreements, so there are restrictions. In some cases, if someone works 15 minutes of overtime then they get the equivalent of two hours of overtime,” depending on the contract.

“Anytime you have a 24-hour operation you will have overtime. We try to manage that the best we can.”

Iowa Watchdog analyzed employee data provided by the Department of Administrative Services, which had finalized figures through fiscal 2011 only.

The department provided Iowa Watchdog with a list of individuals who received overtime in fiscal 2012, which showed costs at $13.7 million. That figure, however, excludes the Department of Transportation, which accounted for 24 percent of overtime expenses in 2011.

Specifically, the analysis showed:

  • Overtime pay for individuals in 2012, in some cases, exceeded $60,000. A nurse practitioner working at the Iowa Veteran’s Home racked up the priciest overtime. She opted to take comp time instead of receive the extra money. Her comp time was valued at more than $100,000 a year in fiscal years 2011 and 2012.
  • The Iowa Department of Human Services lost 503 full-time workers, the most of any state agency, and also racked up the largest increase in overtime in the five-year period. The number of hours worked grew by 109,920, while the cost jumped by $1.5 million. The department paid out $8.3 million in overtime in fiscal 2011.
  • Three other agencies increased overtime spending by roughly $1 million. They include the Department of Corrections, Veterans Home and the Department of Transportation.
  • The state’s workforce was cut 2 percent, while regular salary costs grew 6 percent to $1.1 billion from 2007 to 2011.
  • At least 18 agencies reduced overtime spending by more than $700,000 combined during the five-year span reviewed. The Department of Administrative Services and Iowa Public Television had the largest drops, decreasing costs by $300,640 and $158,823, respectively.

“There was a real focus from the management on reducing the amount of overtime that was being utilized,” said Caleb Hunter, spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services. “We were able to curtail costs by staggering schedules and things that.

“Our appropriation hasn’t increased over the last several fiscal years. Overtime savings are basically ones we had to go get in order to just maintain the same level of services we have, because costs go up on a regular basis even when revenue doesn’t.”

State funding, staff shortages, agency heads and union contracts dictate which employees get overtime and how much is spent, as well as whether employees get comp time or cash for the extra hours, Roederer said.

Most often, those with the most seniority – and highest hourly salaries – get first dibs, which can drive up costs, he said.

Iowa officials have worked to reduce overtime under the Branstad administration, which some have done, state figures show. Making their efforts easier, the state offered an early retirement incentive during the past several years, which prompted hundreds of workers to leave their positions. They were then filled with younger, less expensive employees, if at all, state officials said.

Human Services, for example, lost 600 older workers. The department also was able to cut overtime from fiscal years 2010 to 2012 at two state residential facilities that racked up the most overtime expenses. Glenwood reduced its costs by 50 percent, while Woodward cut its by 33 percent, said Roger Munns, spokesman for the department.

Woodward spent $3 million on overtime in 2010, while Glenwood doled out $3.9 million. Within one year, those numbers dropped to $2.1 million and $3 million, respectively, according to state figures.

“We track this pretty closely,” Munns said. “The percent is going down every year. These are 24/7 operations. If the slightest thing goes wrong you cannot leave vulnerable people unattended. But even the highest number of overtime hours is nowhere near where it was two years ago.”

Contact Sheena Dooley at and follow her on Twitter @sheenadooley.

— Edited by John Trump at

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