Hillbrook Juvenile Detention Center on Velasko Road has 32 beds for youths accused of crimes. Credit: Julie McMahon

Overtime pay for employees at Hillbrook Juvenile Detention Center increased almost 60% in 2022. 

A total of 32 Hillbrook employees made more than $10,000 in overtime pay in 2022 — more than double the number of employees who made that amount in 2021. 

The increase came in the same year Onondaga County Comptroller Marty Masterpole audited Hillbrook overtime practices and found issues with how management doled out overtime at the facility. 

Masterpole found that one employee, Sandy Masello, took advantage of lax oversight and broke state labor laws 82 times in 2021 to triple her base pay, according to his audit. Masello retired shortly after Central Current published a story about the audit. Masterpole said he thought at the time Masello’s retirement could lead to a decrease in overtime. 

However, pay data shows a widespread overtime spike in 2022. 

Masterpole said the staffing hadn’t been reduced or altered “by an amount to justify $300,000 in additional overtime.”

“I don’t have a good answer for you,” Masterpole said. “I really don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know why.” 

Justin Sayles, a spokesman for the Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, said Hillbrook added two new units and saw a “significant increase” in the number of young people  held at the facility. 

The increase in capacity and challenges in filling vacancies led administrators to rely more on overtime, Sayles said. The county plans to hire an additional senior counselor by mid-April and multiple part-time positions will be made full-time positions in 2024 to reduce the need for overtime, Sayles said. 

Sayles did not respond to follow-up questions about the population and vacancies at Hillbrook.

Increasing problems with overtime at Hillbrook

In the last five years, overtime has increased exponentially. Employees at Hillbrook made $164,280 in overtime pay in 2017. Last year, they racked up $894,138 in overtime pay. 

Hillbrook has been audited twice since 2016 by the county comptroller’s office. 

In 2016, then-Comptroller Robert Antonacci found a number of problems:

  • Employees called in sick and worked anyway to collect compensatory time or overtime.
  • A lack of verification that management doled out overtime on a rotating basis.
  • Shift supervisors approved their own overtime or failed to get their overtime pre-approved.
  • Employees worked more than two 16-hour shifts in one work week.

Masterpole’s 2022 audit found the four problems Antonacci had uncovered still existed. 

He made a number of recommendations in his 2022 audit, including matching Hillbrook policies with rules governing overtime in the union’s contract. The union’s contract with the county expired at the end of 2022. 

At the time of Masterpole’s audit, the county defended Masello and Hillbrook management, writing that Masello “stepped up” when needed. County officials said in their formal response to Masterpole’s audit that salaries at Hillbrook were high because of the county’s contract with Hillbrook employees’ union and that the overtime was necessary. 

They characterized some of Masterpole’s findings as misunderstandings, agreed to make some changes and said they’d re-evaluate the facility’s staffing structure. 

It’s unclear if county officials implemented any of Masterpole’s recommendations or made the changes they promised to make. 

In the last year, Hillbrook appears to have hired more employees. Pay data kept by the comptroller’s office shows the facility paid 18 more people per week in 2022 than in 2021. 

Along with the increase in employees on the payroll, overtime per employee also increased — from about $6,800 in 2021 to about $8,900 in 2022 – to the tune of about 31%. 

“You would think that equal to or more staff would mean less overtime,” Masterpole said. 

Masterpole said there have been no conversations between his office and the county executive’s office or Hillbrook administration about the audit after its release in May 2022. 

Long-term impact of overtime practices

Significant overtime pay costs taxpayers — not just in short-term overtime payments but in long-term pension payments too. 

County employees’ pensions are largely based on their salaries in the last 36 months before retirement. 

Masello’s base pay was about $68,000, but she made more than $100,000 in just over six months at Hillbrook in 2022. She earned $190,557 and $184,212 in 2020 and 2021, respectively. 

Her overtime allows her to collect an annual pension of more than $92,000, higher than her base salary at Hillbrook.

Masello has the sixth-most expensive active pension in Onondaga County, according to a statewide database maintained by the Empire Center.

Over the next 15 years, Masello’s pension could cost taxpayers nearly $1.4 million. 

read more about overtime at Hillbrook

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Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.