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Overtime costs increased in Huntington due to long 2015 winter

Town of Huntington Highway Superintendent Pete Gunther, seen

Town of Huntington Highway Superintendent Pete Gunther, seen on Dec. 11, 2014, with department trucks and snowplows. An unusually long and busy winter season in 2015 caused overtime to nearly double from 2014, town officials said. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Because of an unusually long and busy winter season, overtime nearly doubled in the Town of Huntington between 2014 and last year, town officials said.

Overtime rose 87.5 percent from $2,473,993.33 to $4,637,765.45 during that period. The departments with employees earning the most overtime in 2015 worked in highway, sewer, parks maintenance and water districts.

Those are departments with 24-hour, seven-day-a-week maintenance requirements, town officials said.

Highway Superintendent Pete Gunther said 2015 was the fourth snowiest on record for the town, with 63 inches recorded. Normal is 24.3 inches, he said. Overtime rate is paid at time and a half.

“Also because it was the coldest winter on record, it extended the winter season to the second week of May and that drove overtime up,” Gunther said. “It’s because you need water to clean sand from the streets and you can’t risk it freezing.”

The highway department is divided into three offices in Elwood, Oakwood and East Northport.

The number of town employees went from 1,805 in 2014 to 1,863 in 2015. Payroll increased from $60,414,926.34 to $65,672,945.89 during that same period.

Workers in the highway department accounted for 43 percent of the town’s 2015 overtime budget. Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said the remainder of the overtime can be attributed to workers and use of equipment from departments such as general services, parks maintenance and refuse.

Petrone said part of his budget strategy over the years has been to not fill an open position with salary and benefits, but instead hire personnel on overtime on an as-needed basis.

“It’s a way to be cost effective,” Petrone said. “All of my budgets have been solid because we build in the overtime, it’s planned for and we are constantly monitoring it.”

The town’s highest overtime earner for 2015 was 30-year employee Richard Polacek, a labor crew leader level 4 who works out of the Elwood office.

He made $71,747.86 on top of his base salary of $102,334.63. Polacek said that his overtime was high but explained it is because he is the director of operations during emergencies, acting as a liaison between all the workers out in the field and Gunther.

“I’m here from the beginning of a storm until the end of storm, even when the guys go home. I’m here all the time, directing the operation, whether it’s sweeping, trees, snow removal, a regular nor’easter,” Polacek said.

Gunter agreed.

“He’s my right-hand guy,” Gunther said. “Him and I are on the phone morning, noon and night; he’s telling us what’s going on out there, he’s the biggest bang for the buck.”

Gunther said if he has to call people in on the weekend, they are guaranteed four hours of overtime. Gunther also said in 2015 the town started clearing snow from streets and sidewalks in downtown Huntington during the overnight hours even though those are state roads.

In 2015 the highest paid white-collar employee of the town was town attorney Cindy Elan-Mangano. Her gross pay was $166,549.94, compared to Petrone’s $163,713.00.


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