Hempstead Town officials reduced the town’s overtime payments by nearly 33 percent in 2017, the second year in a row of mass cuts to the supplementary spending, a Newsday review of town records shows.
Overtime spending went from $4.9 million in 2015 to $2.1 million in 2016, a 56 percent decrease, records indicate. The spending then went down further, to $1.4 million, in 2017.
On average, the town paid $365.93 in overtime per employee — the lowest amount for any Long Island town or city government in 2017.
The decreases came during former Supervisor Anthony Santino’s tenure. In November, he lost his re-election bid to Democratic Supervisor Laura Gillen for leadership of Long Island’s most populous town.
Santino’s stated goal upon taking office in 2016 was to cut $1.8 million in overtime spending. Officials had predicted last year that 2017 overtime costs would be roughly $2.1 million again.
Overtime made up 0.82 percent of the town’s more than $175 million payroll for 2017, the largest payroll of any Long Island town or city, data provided by the town show. The total payroll last year was cut 1.46 percent from 2016’s $178 million.
The town’s staff was reduced 5.77 percent — the most on the Island — from 4,161 employees in 2016 to 3,921 in 2017. The town still employs the most staff of any town or city government on the Island.
Gillen said the 2018 overtime budget is $2.8 million and it’s expected to come in lower than that by the end of the year, barring unforeseen events.
“We’re watching every department carefully to make sure that they stay within their budget and that they stay within their costs,” she said.
Water service supervisor Paul Slater was paid the most overtime in 2017 for the second consecutive year at $17,357. In 2016, he made $27,111 in overtime. Water service worker Robert Kneuer Jr. followed Slater in 2017 with $9,610 in overtime.
The top 10 overtime recipients in 2017 worked in the Water, Sanitation, and Information and Technology Departments and were paid more than $5,000 in addition to their salaries, records show. In 2016, the top 10 workers all made more than $11,000 in overtime.
The four top-paid town employees in 2017 retired last year and started receiving their severance payments. Parks Commissioner Michael Zappolo’s 2017 base salary was $154,237 and his total pay — he did not generate any overtime — was $320,263. He left the town in November.
The highest-paid active employee was again Mike Deery, formerly the town’s spokesman and currently the confidential assistant to the receiver of taxes. He was paid $205,765 in 2017, town records show.
Santino attributed the overall payroll spending drop to offering retirement incentives and only replacing employees when necessary, limiting other hiring, changing shifts and schedules, and reducing overtime spending to emergencies such as snowstorms or water main breaks.
“I think I took a town that had serious financial issues and in two years, by making tough decisions on behalf of the taxpayers, I was able to turn that around in two years,” Santino said. “I think the numbers bear that out conclusively.”
Gillen said her office found the town’s initial response to Newsday’s public records request for 2017 payroll records, submitted after Santino had left office, did not include 121 staffers who had retired in 2016 but continued to receive more than $9 million in severance payments last year.
Previous Hempstead payroll releases have included retirees, though not all towns do so.
“It shows that we really need checks and balances in Hempstead and that my office really needs to be watching over everything for fiscal control,” she said.
Gillen also criticized 192 promotions, raises and transfers granted to employees — which she says means $2.4 million in extra salary costs — and a no-layoff clause passed during Santino’s final meeting as supervisor in December.
Gillen has filed a lawsuit contesting the personnel moves and the no-layoff clause and Santino declined to comment on it.