UG examines overtime pay

The Unified Government Commission tonight went into overtime to discuss public safety overtime pay and out-of-class pay.

The special meeting started at 5 p.m. and went over the two-hour time slot, and resumed later after the regular 7 p.m. meeting.

Mayor Mark Holland said that costs were up significantly because of overtime and out-of-class pay.

Costs were up by millions in overtime and out-of-class pay for three public safety departments, the Police Department, Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department, he said. There was also an increase of personnel.

“We have a major fund balance crisis right now,” he said. “We are at risk of losing our credit rating if we do not find a way to curb some spending.”

He said his goal is to do a comprehensive third-party look at all three of these departments, as well as a compensation classification analysis, to make sure the UG is functioning as efficiently as possible while delivering the same services and not compromising safety.

That $5 million spent on overtime and out-of-class pay to some employees in the three departments is enough to give a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment to each UG employee, he added.

Sheriff Don Ash, Fire Chief John Paul Jones and Assistant Police Chief Terry Terry Zeigler appeared before the commission to explain what is driving the overtime costs. They described staffing shortages in their departments, with employees being asked to cover vacancies or unscheduled leaves such as illnesses and family emergencies. They described their departments’ situations in detail.

The department heads told the commission that they were bound by contractual agreements on the issues of overtime and out-of-class pay.

Chief Jones told the commission there were currently 14 vacancies in his department and it will probably go up to 25 later in the year with retirements. The new recruit class will not be available until the end of the year, he said. The Fire Department is currently a little below national standards recommending 4 persons per truck, he told the commission. As the situation is now, he said to eliminate overtime would be a cut in service.

The commission threw out the idea of reducing the number of fire station in the city, and the mayor discussed assigning three to a truck and having a fourth arrive at a scene from another fire station.

Sheriff Ash, whose department had more than a million dollars of overtime, presented three options to the commission, including one that would save more than a half-million dollars.

He told the commission that if he could add employees, he could reduce the amount spent on overtime and out-of-class pay. Commissioner Ann Murguia asked about the possibility of adding a few part-time deputies.

Assistant Chief Terry Zeigler said late and extended calls were driving overtime in the Police Department, with officers staying on the scene to complete their work.

He said contract language had driven the staffing costs. In 2012, the department spent more than $500,000 on overtime because of contract language, he said. In 2014 a letter of understanding was signed by the Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Department that addressed the issues and the amount spent on overtime is not as much currently. About $254,000 is projected for overtime this year. Commissioner Mike Kane suggested the other departments might want to work together with the unions on contract language to reduce overtime.

The commission also discussed trying to reduce overtime associated with officers having to attend court.

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