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As hikes loom, Port Authority OT 'flows like water'

August 18, 2011 4:36:38 AM PDT
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey should cut millions of dollars in overtime pay, which totaled $86 million last year, according to a report Wednesday from state auditors.

New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said overtime "flows like water" at the agency responsible for the region's airports, seaports, Port Authority Trans Hudson rail system, tunnels and bridges between New York and New Jersey. It also runs the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the World Trade Center; on Friday, the agency is expected to consider toll increases.

Almost $86 million of overtime was paid last year to 5,360 of the authority's 6,977 employees, most for PATH and the public safety workers, auditors said.

That's a 3 percent cut from the year before, though the authority's budget specified a 20 percent cut. Its overall operating budget for 2010 was $2.48 billion.

"Management has no clear strategy to achieve its own benchmarks and goals for curbing costs," DiNapoli said. "Every agency in this state is tightening its belt. Before the Port Authority asks for more money to fund its operations, the agency should take a long, hard look at whether its business model for managing overtime really makes sense."

Authority officials, in a response to the draft audit, said they're taking further steps. But, they said, auditors should recognize the security-sensitive, unionized, regulated, round-the-clock business environment and that they've reduced the workforce to its lowest level in 40 years.

"We employ a business model designed to optimize the use of permanent resources, including the judicious use of overtime when operational requirements dictate such use," authority chief financial officer Michael Fabiano wrote.

He noted unanticipated, heightened security needs following terrorist attacks elsewhere last year "given the high profile of our facilities."

The authority's board is expected to vote Friday whether to increase tolls to $17, from the current $8, by 2014, and raise PATH subway fares by $1, to $2.75. Much of the money is going to fund the $11 billion World Trade Center. The two-phase toll and fare increase is meant to fully fund a new $33 billion ten-year capital plan, which the agency said will generate 167,000 jobs and follows "an aggressive cost-cutting plan" that began in 2008.

Charl Kroeger, a graphic designer who lives in Jersey City and travels frequently to Manhattan to meet clients, said the Port Authority needs to trim expenses before raising fares.

They need to examine incredibly carefully exactly who is getting overtime," the 49-year-old Kroeger said. "They need to cut their overtime before they make us pay extra."

New York's auditors concluded that over five years ending Dec. 31, the authority's Public Safety Department and PATH accounted for $217.5 million and $85.4 million of overtime costs, respectively, or two-thirds of the $459 million total for the period. They identified 24 employees whose 2009 overtime earnings exceeded their salaries, including one who averaged 34 extra hours weekly and got $153,530 in overtime atop a base salary of $107,878.

The report also showed that 71 of the 300 top pensioners in the New York's retirement system were from the authority with pensions likely boosted by overtime that ranged from $125,612 to $196,768.

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Associated Press writer Karen Zraick contributed to this report from New York.


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