Overtime ballooned regional jail payroll costs

Joe DeLong, executive director of West Virginia’s Regional Jail Authority, wants to reduce his agency’s payroll costs. Hiring 100 new full-time employees ought to do that, he believes.


DeLong hasn’t lost his mind. Neither have RJA members who endorsed his proposal this week. Their reasoning seems solid.

During the 2011-12 budget year, the authority handed out $31.8 million in paychecks. Of that, about $7.2 million was in overtime pay for guards and other employees who had to work more than 40 hours a week to keep jails staffed adequately.

Putting 100 new employees on the payroll would cost about $2.4 million a year – while reducing overtime costs by at least $3.6 million, DeLong told authority members Thursday. That would translate to a net reduction of about $1.2 million.

The move, which must be approved by other executive branch agencies, would make sense for other reasons, DeLong said. The authority’s 648 corrections officers often are “tired, and they’re leaving their guard down” because of mandatory overtime, he explained.

It seems obvious the new corrections officers ought to be added, then. But if at a later date it is determined they are a drain on the state budget rather than a help, some or all of them ought to be laid off.

DeLong’s explanation of the situation is extremely troubling. Staffing plans put in place for the 10-facility network of regional jails did not take factors such as holidays, sick leave and vacations into account, he said last week. That system, in place for many years, simply was not realistic. It ignored basic factors most private-sector managers understand and take into account in staffing their businesses.

Like so much that happens in government, it appears the regional jail system was established on the basis of cost estimates those responsible should have known were flawed. The system is costing more than taxpayers were led to believe.

How many other state agencies are doing the same thing?

It was not difficult for DeLong to reach the conclusion he did. Simply noting that nearly 23 percent of personnel costs were for overtime pay made alarm bells ring in his head.

Have other state agency heads taken the same look at their payrolls? Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin should order they do so immediately.