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Which Alabama state agencies are spending the most money in overtime?

ALABAMA AGENCIES OVERTIME.jpg

Tens of millions of your tax dollars are being spent on state workers for overtime pay. Time and a half. Premium dollars.

Five state agencies spent more than $46 million in overtime pay last year.

Our I-Team investigated the departments that are spending the most money in overtime--and we look at why it’s happening.

We begin our story with a former correctional officer.

He consistently put in stressful 80-hour work weeks—sometimes more—as he dealt with convicted murderers, drug dealers and gang members in Alabama prisons.

We’re protecting his identity at his request.

“It’s probably the most grueling thing that a correctional officer can do. You’re faced with control of the prison and you’re exhausted,” “Sam” said.

We’re calling him “Sam.” We’re protecting his identity, and disguised his voice, because he doesn’t want to be considered a troublemaker.

Sam spent more than two decades as a correctional officer. He says the stress from working in an overcrowded, understaffed prison—for 80 hours or more a week—seemed overwhelming at times.

“If somebody got stabbed, or something like that, and you were the only one available to take that inmate to the hospital, your 80-hour clock is still running. You’ve already gone past it,” Sam said.

Alabama Department of Corrections: No. 1 for overtime pay

The Alabama Department of Corrections has led all state agencies for overtime pay for years. Nearly $31.6 million of taxpayer’s money shelled out in overtime last year alone.

A department spokesman says Alabama prisons are significantly understaffed and overcrowded. Department policy requires mandatory overtime at all major correctional facilities due to the critical shortage of correctional officers.

The addition of 37 recently graduated correctional officers won’t bring much relief. We spoke with Alabama Department of Corrections Chief of Staff Steve Brown about that.

“How much of a dent will this make in terms of solving the overtime problem?” I asked.

“Obviously not enough. Thirty-seven kids when you’re a thousand short. But every, every officer helps us,” Brown said.

The corrections department is getting an extra $30 million this fiscal year and an extra $50 million during the next fiscal year. While a significant amount of that money will pay for expanded mental health services for inmates, the department is making recommendations to the state personnel department on correctional officer hiring goals and compensation.

Earlier this month, we reported that the corrections department is cracking down on excessive overtime.

That’s a result of our I-Team investigation and State Auditor Jim Zeigler’s call for a probe.

Chief of Staff Brown says the department is going to enforce the maximum overtime rule of 80-hour work weeks.

That’s after we discovered a correctional officer consistently putting in 90 to 95-hour work weeks—a grueling schedule.

Alabama Law Enforcement Agency: No. 2 for overtime pay

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency paid the second highest amount of overtime last year. Nearly $6.8 million.

Department officials say the overtime is due to troopers working their off days at construction sites to protect road crews. Plus, cracking down on speeders and drunk drivers often during the holidays. That overtime bill is reimbursed mostly through federal dollars—but it’s still your money.

Colonel Charles Ward heads up the Department of Public Safety— that’s the largest division within ALEA.

He says it’s cheaper to pay the overtime. That’s because most construction projects don’t last that long and don’t operate during bad weather.

“Versus if we just hired people to cover down on that, it’s going to be for 365 days out of the year. And that amount to cover them would be higher than the overtime amount,” Ward said.

Meantime, ALEA is hiring 60 additional troopers. It’s also conducting a study to determine how many more troopers are needed to achieve full staffing.

Alabama Department of Transportation: No. 3 for overtime pay

The Alabama Department of Transportation spent the third highest amount of overtime last year. A little over $4.3 million.

ALDOT officials say that overtime represents about two percent of their overall payroll. They say most overtime occurs because of road maintenance and construction projects. Those projects occur within limited time frames and require workers with special skill sets.

An ALDOT spokesman says: “Hiring and training additional full-time personnel for work, that might only last six months, would come at a significantly higher cost than overtime compensation going to existing personnel.”

Rounding out the Top 5 for overtime pay

Number four is the Alabama Department of Mental Health. It had $3.2 million in overtime last year.

Number five was Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries. That agency had less than $500,000 in overtime.

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