Bonuses paid to state workers

Hundreds of state rank-and-file employees got extra pay last fiscal year even though the general government workforce went through another year of no pay increases.

The extra money came via state Civil Service programs that allow state agencies to develop policies to pay more for retaining employees, for employees assuming additional job duties as well as for attaining advanced degrees and training related to their jobs.

In all, 1,400 classified employees received about $1.7 million through the flexible pay options during the fiscal year ending June 30, according to a new Civil Service report. Some workers received one-time bonuses, while others got boosts in their base pay.

A little more than half of the employees work for two agencies, the state Department of Transportation and Development and the state Department of Insurance, and those two agencies account for about a fourth of the spending for pay adjustments .

DOTD used the programs the most, with 521 employees getting extra pay totaling $307,589. A quarter-million dollars went into base pay increases for 96 employees.

“One of the reasons our numbers are so high is we are a big agency,” said DOTD Undersecretary Michael Bridges. “We have a $550 million operating budget. Of that, $200 million is for personnel. That’s 4,800 employees. We also believe that the programs we have are very beneficial.”

A rewards-and-recognition policy provides a $150 bonus and a polo shirt to employees who are judged to have “gone over and beyond their job description,” said Bridges.

The base pay increases are used to fill hard-to-fill positions, Bridges said. “We hire people at the initial level and we tell them if they stay with us six months we will give them that optional increase, another 10 percent. It keeps them longer,” he said.

Bridges said the hard-to-fill jobs include mobile equipment operators who mow grass, drive backhoes and the like, plus surveyors, members of road crews who fill potholes, and attorneys on occasion.

DOTD last gave a general pay raise in fiscal year 2009-2010.

The Insurance Department used a rewards-and-recognition policy to provide lump-sum payments to 221 employees totaling $108,000.

The agency got Civil Service approval for the rules governing its program last fall. Department spokeswoman Ileana Ledet said the payments represent a bonus of 1 percent of base pay for employees who had anything to do with the agency’s meeting standards required for accreditation by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. “It was throughout all divisions and for everyone that had a role,” she said. The payment was made at the end of June, she said.

The payments do not involve additional appropriations, said state Civil Service director Shannon Templet. “Agencies are working within their budgets when they make these kinds of payments,” she said.

“The majority of what we see is because people get additional duties,” said Templet. In many instances there could be taxpayer savings as agencies pay employees a little more to take on additional duties instead of hiring a new employee, she said.

“We think they are good human resource practices,” Templet said.

The number of employees getting the awards represents a small fraction of the 43,000 full-time equivalent classified employees tracked.

Civil Service rules allow agencies to implement a rewards-and-recognition program for individual employees or employee groups for significant achievements.

A monetary award can be given on a lump-sum basis of up to 10 percent of the employee’s base salary. Optional pay adjustments for employee retention can also be granted of up to 10 percent either as a lump sum or as a permanent addition to the employee’s base pay. Up to a 10 percent increase in base pay can also be granted to those attaining a job-related master’s or doctoral degree.

Among the other top users of the extra pay policies were LSU-Baton Rouge, with $93,276 going to 33 employees; Public Safety and Corrections, $83,830 going to 22 employees; the Secretary of State, $64,703 to 21 employees; and the Department of Revenue, $50,284 to 51 employees.

The use of the flexible pay options has declined since the 2007-08 fiscal year, when records show extra pay to 2,700 employees cost $3.6 million, Templet said.

“Once the economic downturn occurred it’s been steadily declining,” she said. “This last fiscal year is the new normal. I don’t think they are going to escalate tremendously.”