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Philly city worker triples salary with overtime, adding to record OT bill for year

Fiscal year 2018 was a record setting year for the city in overtime. It spent $175 million on overtime, that's 30 percent over budget and the eighth straight year that the city blows it's overtime budget. Several employees more than doubled their salaries in overtime and one employee more than tripled her salary. Fiscal and work place experts say there are serious consequences to too much overtime– increase in budget and pension costs plus worker fatigue.

Philadelphia blew its overtime budget for the eighth straight year with a record-setting $175 million in fiscal year 2018.
Philadelphia blew its overtime budget for the eighth straight year with a record-setting $175 million in fiscal year 2018.Read moreAP

A Philadelphia youth-detention counselor worked so much overtime in the last fiscal year that she more than tripled her $49,551 salary to $161,000. The worker, Joy Hurtt, is also on track to retire in a few years with a yearly pension from the city that's $34,000 higher than her salary.

While the case of Hurtt, a 33-year city employee, is an extreme example, she is one of the thousands of workers who helped set an overtime record. The city spent $175 million, almost $40 million more than budgeted for fiscal year 2018, according to a preliminary report by the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA).

It was Philadelphia's eighth straight busted overtime budget.

"This is just stunning," Alan Kessler, PICA's vice chair, said, reviewing the numbers at last month's board meeting. "I don't know how many times we've discussed this, and for it to happen for an eighth year, and we keep saying 'accountability'? What accountability is there in the departments — how are their feet held to the fire?"

The Police, Prisons, Fire and Streets Departments had the most overtime, with police drawing special scrutiny for court-related overtime. In total, city employees in fiscal year 2018 were paid $249 million in overtime, of which $175 million came from the general fund. The rest came from other city funds, state and federal grants and reimbursements for private events.

City officials say overtime is needed and in some cases the fiscally prudent thing to do. The challenge, they say, is predicting when it's better to use overtime as opposed to hiring more workers.

"It's not where we need it to be, but we are making progress," budget director Anna Adams said. "You also factor in that there have been employee raises, so it's going to naturally increase the amount of overtime."

There are consequences to overtime, though, for both taxpayers and the employees themselves. For many municipal workers, except police and fire, overtime is counted in pension calculations and can increase the city's financial burden for decades to come.

Hurtt, for example, more than doubled her salary in overtime from previous years and signed up for the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) in March 2017. That means that when she retires in 2021, she will get an estimated lump sum of $387,055 and start receiving an $88,495 annual pension for the rest of her life.

Had she waited one more year to sign up for DROP, her pension would have been even higher.

Hurtt's job includes conducting one-on-one counseling, making recommendations and referrals for care of the children, and maintaining security. She is one of about 250 employees at the juvenile center, which has between 80 and 150 youths at any given time.

While Hurtt was an outlier — she was paid $112,267 in overtime alone —  the average amount of overtime paid last fiscal year to her 79 colleagues was about $23,000.

City records don't clearly spell out how many days Hurtt worked in the year, which ended June 30. But the numbers would seem to raise questions about the 66-year-old's tally.

The city counted 249 work days on its calendar, and, of them, Hurtt claimed 57 days of paid time off — for vacations, personal and sick days. Beyond the $49,551 salary she got for working the regular 40-hour work weeks, she was paid for an additional 2,872 overtime hours — or the equivalent of 71 more weeks on the payroll, the records show.

The center has an internal policy that staff may not work more than two eight-hour shifts per day. But like the rest of the city workforce, the center's employees do not have limits on the amount of overtime they can work.

A city spokeswoman said that Hurtt and other detention counselors are on mandatory overtime in order to keep a 6-1 ratio of staff to youths during the day, and a 12-1 ratio at night. She declined to make Hurtt or her supervisor available for an interview, and efforts by the Inquirer and Daily News to reach Hurtt by phone or at home were not successful.

Beyond the costs, another problem with overtime, according to experts, is the safety of the workers and others.

"Protective service workers must be sharp and alert, and on a regular basis are in dangerous situations," said Barbara Rahke, director of PhilaPOSH, an advocacy group for workplace safety. "But if they were doing double shifts on a weekly basis, [then] there is no doubt they would be at higher risk if not as alert while doing their job."

Exhaustion is a factor in accidents, she said, noting a 2012 bus crash that killed nine people and injured 37 in Pendleton, Ore.; the driver had worked 92 hours in the seven days prior. Hospitals also are limiting hours of doctors and nurses, Rahke said.

Overtime has been a long-running issue at the Department of Human Services, which runs the youth detention center. In a 2014 report on use of overtime, the City Controller's Office said that in some cases there was no evidence of supervisor approval, or it was added after the fact.

The report also said that it sometimes it would be more efficient for the city to hire more workers than continue paying overtime. For example, it found that a youth detention counselor with a $42,390 base salary and $67,198 in overtime would cost $219,501 with benefits, based on legacy pension rules. Instead, DHS could save $57,548 by hiring a new worker under the newer pension formula.

"Management indicated that the five Youth Detention Counselor 2s included in this review worked voluntary and mandated overtime to 'enhance their salaries,'" the 2014 report said.

City spokeswoman Alicia Taylor said that when overtime is needed to keep the appropriate staff-to-youth ratio, DHS management first asks for volunteers. Overtime is assigned by seniority, and Hurtt is the second most senior person in her position.

In the fiscal year 2016 audit of DHS, which oversees the juvenile center, the Controller's Office noted that some overtime was paid without evidence of actual time worked. (DHS said at the time that it was not aware of the instances cited by the controller.)

Taylor said that since that audit, the department's human resources staff has increased its random checks of timesheets against payroll records.

Hurtt's overtime timesheets were not part of those checked in the last fiscal year.