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Minnesota shutdown OT costs doubled usual amount

ST. PAUL The rate of overtime collected by Minnesota state employees nearly doubled during July's 20-day government shutdown compared with when it's business as usual. About $1.8 million was paid in overtime as the 43 state agencies that continue...

ST. PAUL

The rate of overtime collected by Minnesota state employees nearly doubled during July's 20-day government shutdown compared with when it's business as usual.

About $1.8 million was paid in overtime as the 43 state agencies that continued operating during the shutdown were forced to reduce staffing and prioritize workloads.

A Pioneer Press analysis of salary data for the 14,945 employees who worked during the shutdown shows some people averaged 12 hours a day, while others clocked only an hour or two.

The reasons for overtime ranged from weather emergencies to canceled vacations to the demands to keep up with essential tasks with fewer workers.

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The overtime details were released after a report Tuesday noted the shutdown cost taxpayers about $59 million in lost revenue and expenses. But that hit was offset by $65 million in wages not paid to the 19,000 state employees temporarily laid off, according to the Minnesota Management and Budget department report.

Most of the overtime paid out to the so-called essential employees, such as state troopers, highway workers and conservation officers handling emergencies. Also collecting were paraprofessionals and nurses working in the state's psychiatric hospitals.

The number of workers decreased during the shutdown, but the workload did not, Human Services Deputy Commissioner Anne Barry said.

"It was very tiring, very exhausting," Barry said.

Across state agencies, the overtime represents 4 percent of the $40.6 million spent on salaries (not including benefits), which is twice the rate those same agencies incurred in 2010. The figures don't include the state court system or Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, which were allowed to continue operating at full staffing.

Human Services, which had the highest staffing level, deployed a "skeleton staff" at the central office. And it had slightly lower than usual levels at psychiatric hospitals, the state sex-offender treatment program and other care institutions around the state.

"There was this constantly nagging feeling that you're not doing everything as well as you could," Barry said about working during the shutdown. "I don't know how much longer our systems and people could have lasted if we had gone longer."

The agency mirrored the rest of state government with about 4 percent of its salaries paid during the shutdown going to overtime.

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Not all of the overtime paid was due to extra work, though. About one-third of the $377,000 in overtime paid to state troopers was directly the result of canceled or delayed vacations.

Labor agreements required that the 109 troopers who canceled scheduled vacations be paid at time and a half, according to Public Safety chief information officer Andy Skoogman.

Troopers filed about 40 labor grievances regarding the vacation issues, Skoogman said. Details about those grievances, including whether they were resolved, were not available Wednesday.

At the Department of Natural Resources, the 130 conservation officers deemed essential collectively clocked more overtime than usual because they had to patrol and secure closed parks as a result of vandalism and break-ins, said Department of Natural Resources spokesman Scott Pengelly.

Meanwhile, weather played a big part in the extra paychecks handed out at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The agency, operating with about 7 percent of its workforce, spent just over $145,000 on overtime -- about 13 percent of the department's total salaries during the shutdown.

Much of the overtime came in the wake of weather-related emergencies, including flooding on Interstate 35W and other highways, storms that knocked trees and branches onto roadways and extreme heat buckling pavement, said MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht.

"With a small number of people, it doesn't take long for them to start accruing overtime," Gutknecht said.

MaryJo Webster can be reached at 651-228-5507 or mwebster@pioneerpress.com . Jennifer Bissell can be reached at 651-265-2481 or jbissell@pioneerpress.com .

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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