Philly Council member questions rampant use of city overtime
Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla, faced with questions during a budget hearing Wednesday about use of overtime in city prisons that topped $35 million in 2013, blamed the spending on prisoner population and guard vacancies.
But a city councilman told Giorla that after hearing of supposed overtime reform in previous years, “now it seems like we’ve gone totally in the opposite way.”
“The mentality always, at least here, was, ‘Let’s not hire new people when you save on benefits and stuff like that,’” Councilman Mark Squilla said. “But you see that the costs actually increase with the more OT, and then the increase in pension payments that’s even further.”
Philly.com reported Monday that the city spent $890 million on overtime across all departments from 2009 through 2013, increasing 20 percent in that five-year period alone. For decades, prison guards and other city employees - police and firefighters excluded - have been able to factor in overtime when calculating their annual pensions. But city officials could not provide any analysis of the effect of overtime on Philadelphia’s troubled pension fund. And the rapid increase in overtime spending since 2009 failed to raise any red flags.
In an interview, Squilla said “it’s obvious our city administration doesn’t pay attention” to the overtime spending or its long-term effect on the pension fund.
But he added that the mayor’s administration holds incredible sway over city spending under the Home Rule Charter, Philadelphia’s form of government.
“We ask questions and get the same answers every year. They’ll get back to us,” he said. “We can holler and scream all we want. Even if a certain amount of spending is proposed and approved through the budget process, the mayor can then decide during the year to spend money differently.”
In response to Squilla’s questions about the prisons system, which has hundreds of guards who earned more than $100,000 in OT since 2009, Giorla also claimed city officials were trying to control the effects overtime can have long-term.
“I think one of the things, and you may be referring to the article, I think that’s one of the reasons this administration and the Finance Department have sought reforms to the pension system,” Giorla said. “I think the new pension plans have reduced that opportunity.”
The opposite, actually, has occurred.
The newest pension plan for all city employees, known as “Plan 10” because it was negotiated in 2010, continues the decades-old tradition of allowing thousands of “non-uniformed” employees to use overtime in calculating their pensions.
A large majority of city employees still have the option of “buying in” to the older pension plan, Plan 87, at a higher contribution cost for the employee. Many employees are still eager to join the older plan because it has higher compensation levels.
Beyond the Squilla-Giorla exchange, only one other question about overtime came up during Wednesday’s hearings on budgets for police, fire and prisons. Combined, those authorities proposed budgets of more than $1 billion. They spent $100 million on overtime in 2013.
Retiring Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, who received salutations from several Council members while presenting his last budget, has overseen a department where overtime spending has increased each of the last five years — nearly doubling from $19 million in 2009 to $37 million last year.
Ayers did not use the word “overtime” at all in his seven-page budget presentation.
A spokeswoman for Council President Darrell Clarke, who sat in for portions of the budget hearings, did not respond to a request for comment.
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, a member of the Appropriations Committee charged with approving city funding changes, said in an interview Tuesday that she has given up questioning the Nutter administration about its overtime spending and hiring strategy because finance officials annually change city spending plans after the budget has been approved.
“The last Appropriations session I didn’t even ask anymore because it’s sort of like I’ve gotten used to this mid-year transfer and then you see all this stuff and you’re like, this is crazy,” Sanchez said. “We’ve known that the only way we’ll reduce this is by hiring up.”