Suffolk County spent 9.7 percent less in employee overtime last year than in 2011 -- despite superstorm Sandy, officials said.
The county incurred $65 million in overtime in 2012, compared with $72 million in the previous year. County Executive Steve Bellone credited new limits placed last February on approvals of nonemergency overtime, including requiring requests seven days in advance.
As of June, the county was on pace for a 30 percent drop in overtime in 2012, but the months-long response to the Oct. 29 storm ate up much of the savings, officials said. Bellone's office said overtime costs from Sandy alone, both short- and long-term, totaled at least $3.4 million.
"To have overtime go down in a year that you had one of the worst natural disasters to ever strike Long Island speaks to the fact that County Executive Bellone did what he said he would," Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said. "He managed overtime and made sure we improved efficiency."
Suffolk police who, with 2,300 sworn officers, typically account for nearly half of county overtime expenses, saw its portion decrease 2.6 percent, to $30.2 million, in 2012 despite $1.6 million paid because of Sandy.
The next highest overtime spender, the sheriff's department, reported a 16.3 percent drop, from $26.1 million in 2011 to $21.8 million in 2012.
But the sheriff's department still accounted for eight of the top 10 individual overtime earners. At the top was sheriff's Sgt. Daniel Berezny, who made $94,670 in overtime in addition to $101,452 in base salary, according to county comptroller data.
Deputy Sheriff Frank Aurecchione, with a base salary of $82,134, was paid $84,051 in overtime, and Deputy Mario Belcastro, with the same base salary, received $81,786 in overtime, county records show.
Sheriff's Chief Michael Sharkey said his department's representation on the list of highest overtime earners is less important than the fact that overall sheriff's overtime was down.
Berezny is one of about 20 sergeants who were asked to work more to make up for numerous supervisor vacancies, Sharkey said. Aurecchione patrolled county highways before the function was returned to police officers in November, writing more than 3,330 traffic violations with the help of a state grant that covered some of his overtime, Sharkey noted.
Deputies such as Aurecchione and Belcastro, he added, accepted extra shifts that were needed to maintain highway safety.
"You have to look at the county's ability to hire or promote more full-time employees and whether it's more economically sound to just pay the OT," Sharkey said. "Since our overtime is down overall, maybe it supports that position."
Last year, the county laid off nearly 300 nonpublic safety employees and another 500 positions, including dozens of police officers, were cut through attrition or early retirement.
Legis. Wayne R. Horsley (D-Babylon), deputy presiding officer, said correction officers hired in 2010 and 2011 helped bring sheriff's overtime down, and Bellone's policies helped control the costs in other departments.
"It's a matter of not allowing every overtime request, and making sure every request is justified," Horsley said.
But Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said the county really had no choice but to cut overtime last year, as it struggled with a budget deficit that was first estimated at as much as $530 million over three years. He said that in 2013, Suffolk would need to continue to keep overtime low -- even as the workforce has been cut -- because Bellone anticipates a deficit of around $100 million.
"It's clearly a sign of our budgetary times," Cilmi said. "We really don't have a choice at this point, because though we were presented, and passed, a budget that was supposedly balanced, we're now already talking about it being short."
Nassau County has not yet responded to a Newsday Freedom of Information Law request for 2012 overtime data.