Nassau and Suffolk government workers earned record overtime pay last...

Nassau and Suffolk government workers earned record overtime pay last year, according to county data. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

This story was reported by Vera Chinese, Candice Ferrette and Anastasia Valeeva. It was written by Ferrette.

County government workers in Nassau and Suffolk earned record overtime pay in 2022, with hundreds racking up more than $100,000 in each and eight making more than $200,000, county data shows. 

Most were law enforcement officers working in the counties' police forces and sheriff's departments. Topping the list was a veteran Suffolk police officer who earned nearly $242,000 in overtime last year, according to 2022 payroll data Newsday obtained through the state's Freedom of Information Law.

Two hundred twenty employees in both counties — 131 in Suffolk and 89 in Nassau — took home more than $100,000 in overtime, according to the data. 

The additional pay boosted Suffolk's overall overtime spending to $137 million in 2022, up 5% from 2021 when it was $130 million. 

Total overtime pay in Nassau was $117 million in 2022, holding steady from 2021. 

The payroll data details compensation for 12,359 county workers in Suffolk and 15,236 in Nassau. 

The employee taking home the most overtime pay in both counties in 2022 was Officer Gardy Wool, a 17-year veteran of the Suffolk County police force, who made $241,717 in overtime, the data shows.

None of the employees named in this story responded to requests for comment.

Tim Hoefer, president and CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank based in Albany, said overtime data is often "an indicator of how well-run any government organization is."

Hoefer said most local governments build in to their annual budgets a line item for overtime as "unanticipated expenses" such as responding to natural disasters or, more recently, a pandemic. But it also could signal lapses in staffing or mismanagement if it exceeds budget regularly.

That only a handful of public employees are taking home the largest overtime checks indicates a problem, he said.

"There are few scenarios in which I think it's appropriate for an individual employee to make $100,000 in overtime," Hoefer said. "But there are no circumstances in which it is appropriate for any given person to earn $200,000 in overtime in a given year."

Jerry Laricchiuta, Long Island regional president for Civil Service Employees Association, said “everybody has a problem" with excessive overtime.

"The union has a problem with it because staffing is low. The county has a problem because it depends so much on that overtime," said Laricchiuta, who began his union leadership career at the Nassau jail and now represents the largest number of union workers across Long Island. 

"The answer is, it's not that simple, but it is that you have to raise the starting pay to attract more people to the jobs,” he said. 

Law enforcement salaries tend to drive county spending, accounting for about half of each county's payroll costs, and the employees also typically top the list of overtime pay.

Seven others who joined Wool in crossing the $200,000 threshold included three patrol officers and a sheriff's deputy in Suffolk, and two correction officers and a correction sergeant in Nassau.  

All but three of the 131 top overtime earners in Suffolk County in 2022 were law enforcement officers with the police or sheriff’s department, according to payroll records.

Suffolk County officers Giancarlo Baranta, John Sciara, Vincent Liberato and sheriff’s deputy John L. Schultz earned more than $200,000 in overtime in 2022. 

Suffolk first crossed the $200,000 threshold in 2015 when Police Officer Nancy Neumann took home $273,879, according to a Newsday analysis of county overtime pay during the last decade. 

In Nassau, 2022 marked the first time a county employee made more than $200,000 in overtime pay. Three members of the correction department — officers Michael R. O’Malley and Michele Aquista and Sgt. Patrick G. McCaffrey — crossed the threshold.

Of the 89 top overtime earners in Nassau, 66 work in the correction department, 18 are police, four are members of the fire commission and one is in social services.

“The thing people should be concerned about with regards to overtime is whether the pay these officers receive will pad their pensions, or if the officers are too tired to do their jobs,” said Larry Levy, executive director of the Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. “And it’s not clear this is the case.”

In Suffolk, overtime increased as staff decreased in 2020 due to retirements during the pandemic and an ensuing hiring freeze, officials said.

The county expects to see an overall reduction in overtime within the sheriff’s department now that pandemic-related restrictions at its jails have ended, county spokeswoman Nicole Russo said.

“We have committed significant resources to hiring additional law enforcement personnel while ensuring long-term taxpayer savings with the lowest percentage salary increases in decades,” Russo said in a statement.

Suffolk typically underestimates its overtime costs and underbudgeted the expense by an average $21.6 million per year between 2017 and 2022, according to a report by the Suffolk Legislature’s Budget Review Office. The county budgeted a total $110 million for overtime in 2022, the report states, but the data shows it spent $137 million. No comparable report in Nassau exists, according to Office of Legislative Budget Review director Maurice Chalmers.

The sheriff’s department in Suffolk, which employs deputies and correction officers in the county jails, is understaffed and has lost employees to higher-paying agencies, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Vicki DiStefano.

Starting pay for a sheriff’s deputy, a role that performs civil enforcement duties including carrying out evictions and transporting prisoners, is $33,000 and it takes 10½ years to reach the top scale of $93,282, she said. Comparatively, starting pay for the Suffolk police department is $43,000 and it takes 11½ years to reach top scale of $158,000. Nassau officials did not provide salary information.

“We’re definitely losing people to competitive agencies. That’s a fact,” she said. “I think we’re seeing a recruitment issue, in addition.”

Suffolk County Deputy Sheriffs Police Benevolent Association president John Becker said under the union’s current contract it is more attractive for older members of the department to accept overtime because they earn more and also can use paid time off in a pay period and still receive time and a half.

“It’s something that should be dealt with through collective bargaining, otherwise this problem is just going to grow,” Becker said. “When these senior people retire, all this overtime will be forced and that’s going to kill morale.”

Nassau County Sheriff’s Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Brian Sullivan said he was not surprised his members were working some of the most overtime.

“They have been ordering them to work, and try to pretend that it isn’t as bad as it is, but the officers know if they don’t sign up for overtime they will be ordered to work it anyway,” said Sullivan, who has testified before the Nassau Legislature about low staffing at the county correctional center in East Meadow.

Sullivan said the state’s 2019 bail reform law has reduced the inmate population and created hiring uncertainties, low morale and officer burnout. He said changes to the solitary confinement laws have put the most violent inmates into the general population, resulting in correction officers getting injured more frequently. The result: mandatory overtime to cover for those officers are unable to work, Sullivan says.

“It’s a very, very difficult place to work with everything going on,” Sullivan said. “We have resignations all the time.”

Nassau County spokesman Christopher Boyle said overall overtime at the county jail has dropped by more than $7 million since a new commissioner was appointed in December. He disputed Sullivan’s characterization of the overtime as “forced.”

Suffolk County PBA president Noel DiGerolamo said excessive overtime costs are not the fault of the officers who work those hours.

“I would prefer nothing more than an environment where we have adequate staffing . . . so that the men and women of the police department are able to get time off and spend time with their families,” DiGerolamo said.

A May study from New York City’s Department of Investigation found that the more hours an NYPD officer worked, the greater the chance of a “negative police outcome” such as an injury, car crash or misconduct complaints. The study, which relied on city data, interviews and publicly available findings on fatigue, said further research was needed for a cost/benefit analysis of using overtime to meet the city’s public safety needs.

Dennis Kenney, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who co-wrote a 1996 study on the prevalence and consequences of police fatigue, said law enforcement officers are often more exhausted than those in almost any other occupation, largely because many departments rely on overtime to meet staffing needs.

Kenney said excessive overtime can cause tired officers to be easily agitated, which can fray community relations. Law enforcement officials are often called on to make rapid decisions, and fatigue can impact their ability to do so, he said.

“In an era where police/community interaction and collaboration is important, fatigue can do a lot of long-term damage,” Kenney said.

DiGerolamo, the Suffolk PBA president, said he is “very concerned when police officers do not have ample time off between tours to get adequate rest so we can ensure the highest level of safety possible.”

“There needs to be a balance between the budget and the need of staffing levels,” he said.

County government workers in Nassau and Suffolk earned record overtime pay in 2022, with hundreds racking up more than $100,000 in each and eight making more than $200,000, county data shows. 

Most were law enforcement officers working in the counties' police forces and sheriff's departments. Topping the list was a veteran Suffolk police officer who earned nearly $242,000 in overtime last year, according to 2022 payroll data Newsday obtained through the state's Freedom of Information Law.

Two hundred twenty employees in both counties — 131 in Suffolk and 89 in Nassau — took home more than $100,000 in overtime, according to the data. 

The additional pay boosted Suffolk's overall overtime spending to $137 million in 2022, up 5% from 2021 when it was $130 million. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • County government workers in Nassau and Suffolk counties earned record high overtime pay in 2022, with hundreds racking up more than $100,000 in overtime each and eight making more than $200,000.
  • Two hundred and twenty employees in both counties — 131 in Suffolk and 89 in Nassau — took home more than $100,000 in overtime. Most were law enforcement officers.
  • Officials blame low staffing levels and starting pay, high turnover rates and a pandemic-era hiring freeze for the overtime spending.

Total overtime pay in Nassau was $117 million in 2022, holding steady from 2021. 

The payroll data details compensation for 12,359 county workers in Suffolk and 15,236 in Nassau. 

The employee taking home the most overtime pay in both counties in 2022 was Officer Gardy Wool, a 17-year veteran of the Suffolk County police force, who made $241,717 in overtime, the data shows.

None of the employees named in this story responded to requests for comment.

Tim Hoefer, president and CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank based in Albany, said overtime data is often "an indicator of how well-run any government organization is."

Hoefer said most local governments build in to their annual budgets a line item for overtime as "unanticipated expenses" such as responding to natural disasters or, more recently, a pandemic. But it also could signal lapses in staffing or mismanagement if it exceeds budget regularly.

That only a handful of public employees are taking home the largest overtime checks indicates a problem, he said.

"There are few scenarios in which I think it's appropriate for an individual employee to make $100,000 in overtime," Hoefer said. "But there are no circumstances in which it is appropriate for any given person to earn $200,000 in overtime in a given year."

Jerry Laricchiuta, Long Island regional president for Civil Service Employees Association, said “everybody has a problem" with excessive overtime.

"The union has a problem with it because staffing is low. The county has a problem because it depends so much on that overtime," said Laricchiuta, who began his union leadership career at the Nassau jail and now represents the largest number of union workers across Long Island. 

"The answer is, it's not that simple, but it is that you have to raise the starting pay to attract more people to the jobs,” he said. 

Police top list of overtime earners

Law enforcement salaries tend to drive county spending, accounting for about half of each county's payroll costs, and the employees also typically top the list of overtime pay.

Seven others who joined Wool in crossing the $200,000 threshold included three patrol officers and a sheriff's deputy in Suffolk, and two correction officers and a correction sergeant in Nassau.  

All but three of the 131 top overtime earners in Suffolk County in 2022 were law enforcement officers with the police or sheriff’s department, according to payroll records.

Suffolk County officers Giancarlo Baranta, John Sciara, Vincent Liberato and sheriff’s deputy John L. Schultz earned more than $200,000 in overtime in 2022. 

Suffolk first crossed the $200,000 threshold in 2015 when Police Officer Nancy Neumann took home $273,879, according to a Newsday analysis of county overtime pay during the last decade. 

In Nassau, 2022 marked the first time a county employee made more than $200,000 in overtime pay. Three members of the correction department — officers Michael R. O’Malley and Michele Aquista and Sgt. Patrick G. McCaffrey — crossed the threshold.

Of the 89 top overtime earners in Nassau, 66 work in the correction department, 18 are police, four are members of the fire commission and one is in social services.

“The thing people should be concerned about with regards to overtime is whether the pay these officers receive will pad their pensions, or if the officers are too tired to do their jobs,” said Larry Levy, executive director of the Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. “And it’s not clear this is the case.”

Understaffing, recruitment

In Suffolk, overtime increased as staff decreased in 2020 due to retirements during the pandemic and an ensuing hiring freeze, officials said.

The county expects to see an overall reduction in overtime within the sheriff’s department now that pandemic-related restrictions at its jails have ended, county spokeswoman Nicole Russo said.

“We have committed significant resources to hiring additional law enforcement personnel while ensuring long-term taxpayer savings with the lowest percentage salary increases in decades,” Russo said in a statement.

Suffolk typically underestimates its overtime costs and underbudgeted the expense by an average $21.6 million per year between 2017 and 2022, according to a report by the Suffolk Legislature’s Budget Review Office. The county budgeted a total $110 million for overtime in 2022, the report states, but the data shows it spent $137 million. No comparable report in Nassau exists, according to Office of Legislative Budget Review director Maurice Chalmers.

The sheriff’s department in Suffolk, which employs deputies and correction officers in the county jails, is understaffed and has lost employees to higher-paying agencies, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Vicki DiStefano.

Starting pay for a sheriff’s deputy, a role that performs civil enforcement duties including carrying out evictions and transporting prisoners, is $33,000 and it takes 10½ years to reach the top scale of $93,282, she said. Comparatively, starting pay for the Suffolk police department is $43,000 and it takes 11½ years to reach top scale of $158,000. Nassau officials did not provide salary information.

“We’re definitely losing people to competitive agencies. That’s a fact,” she said. “I think we’re seeing a recruitment issue, in addition.”

Suffolk County Deputy Sheriffs Police Benevolent Association president John Becker said under the union’s current contract it is more attractive for older members of the department to accept overtime because they earn more and also can use paid time off in a pay period and still receive time and a half.

“It’s something that should be dealt with through collective bargaining, otherwise this problem is just going to grow,” Becker said. “When these senior people retire, all this overtime will be forced and that’s going to kill morale.”

Nassau County Sheriff’s Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Brian Sullivan said he was not surprised his members were working some of the most overtime.

“They have been ordering them to work, and try to pretend that it isn’t as bad as it is, but the officers know if they don’t sign up for overtime they will be ordered to work it anyway,” said Sullivan, who has testified before the Nassau Legislature about low staffing at the county correctional center in East Meadow.

Sullivan said the state’s 2019 bail reform law has reduced the inmate population and created hiring uncertainties, low morale and officer burnout. He said changes to the solitary confinement laws have put the most violent inmates into the general population, resulting in correction officers getting injured more frequently. The result: mandatory overtime to cover for those officers are unable to work, Sullivan says.

“It’s a very, very difficult place to work with everything going on,” Sullivan said. “We have resignations all the time.”

Nassau County spokesman Christopher Boyle said overall overtime at the county jail has dropped by more than $7 million since a new commissioner was appointed in December. He disputed Sullivan’s characterization of the overtime as “forced.”

Suffolk County PBA president Noel DiGerolamo said excessive overtime costs are not the fault of the officers who work those hours.

“I would prefer nothing more than an environment where we have adequate staffing . . . so that the men and women of the police department are able to get time off and spend time with their families,” DiGerolamo said.

Impact of extra work hours

A May study from New York City’s Department of Investigation found that the more hours an NYPD officer worked, the greater the chance of a “negative police outcome” such as an injury, car crash or misconduct complaints. The study, which relied on city data, interviews and publicly available findings on fatigue, said further research was needed for a cost/benefit analysis of using overtime to meet the city’s public safety needs.

Dennis Kenney, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who co-wrote a 1996 study on the prevalence and consequences of police fatigue, said law enforcement officers are often more exhausted than those in almost any other occupation, largely because many departments rely on overtime to meet staffing needs.

Kenney said excessive overtime can cause tired officers to be easily agitated, which can fray community relations. Law enforcement officials are often called on to make rapid decisions, and fatigue can impact their ability to do so, he said.

“In an era where police/community interaction and collaboration is important, fatigue can do a lot of long-term damage,” Kenney said.

DiGerolamo, the Suffolk PBA president, said he is “very concerned when police officers do not have ample time off between tours to get adequate rest so we can ensure the highest level of safety possible.”

“There needs to be a balance between the budget and the need of staffing levels,” he said.

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