ALBANY - Overtime among state agencies grew 11 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, and five state employees earned more than $100,000 each in overtime alone last year, state records Wednesday showed.
Overtime costs for state government rose about $52 million, to a total of nearly $521 million. The state paid out 13.2 million in overtime hours in 2012 - the most since 2008, records obtained by Gannett's Albany Bureau from the state Comptroller's Office said.
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli warned the state about the increase in overtime costs.
"State agency overtime jumped more than $50 million last year, reversing a downward trend," DiNapoli said in a statement. "While often necessary, overtime is an expensive way to operate. Agencies need to do a better job of monitoring their overtime and reduce it whenever possible."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has touted his ability to lower state agency spending, including nearly $1 billion in savings he proposed in his budget address Tuesday. The budget said that in agencies controlled by the governor, the number of positions has declined by 18,802, or 14 percent since 2008, from 137,680 to 118,878.
Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said much of the overtime came from the response to Superstorm Sandy, which struck the New York City area on Oct. 29.
"The alternative would lead to a larger, more costly and inefficient state government -- the exact opposite of what this administration has worked toward during the past two years," he said. "The fact is that the unprecedented damage caused by Hurricane Sandy was also met by a strong response by all segments of the state work force."
Unions said the growth in overtime expenses was due to cuts in positions in recent years.
"The state of New York does this consciously, and nobody should be blaming the workers because most of that is mandated," said Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the state's largest public-employee union.
"The state of New York understaffs to a perverse degree its direct-care operations and then relies on overtime to fill the gaps," he continued.
The highest overtime earner in 2012 was Mercy Mathew, a nurse at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County. Mathew received $150,630 in overtime - in addition to a $58,000 salary, state records showed. Mathew worked more than 2,500 hours of overtime in 2012, which equates to roughly an extra 48 hours a week of work.
Mathew, who is perennially among the top overtime earners, could not be reached for comment. The other $100,000 overtime earners mainly worked at the state's psychiatric centers.
According to the Comptroller's Office, the state Department of Corrections led the state in overtime expenses at nearly $137 million in 2012, up nearly 32 percent from 2011.
The state closed seven prisons in 2011 and lowered prison staff by about 1,000 workers in recent years. Cuomo proposed Tuesday to close an additional two prisons, including a women's prison in Beacon, Dutchess County.
"This is just the latest piece of evidence that New York's correctional facilities are dangerously understaffed," said Donn Rowe, president of the prison union.