10/18/12 — County changes overtime for workers

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County changes overtime for workers

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 18, 2012 1:46 PM

Wayne County Commissioners Ray Mayo and Steve Keen Tuesday morning grilled County Manager Lee Smith as to why commissioners had been left out of a decision to change how overtime is calculated for emergency medical services employees.

But while the two expressed their displeasure, they voted with the rest of the board to switch to straight time and time-and-a-half for overtime for EMS employees. The vote also included leaving the employees' base pay unchanged.

The vote was greeted with applause from the 10 EMS employees in the audience at the board meeting.

Twice in the past month, EMS employees packed the commissioners' boardroom to complain about problems with the county's new payroll system, which underpaid some employees and overpaid others.

Smith has blamed the problem on a complicated formula used in figuring overtime for employees on a fluctuating workweek.

Mayo said he had learned about the change in an email that Smith had sent out on Oct. 12 about "important payroll news" for Office of Emergency Services employees.

"Basically what it says is that we are going to straight time plus time-and-a-half," Mayo said. "What I want to ask the county attorney is do we need, as a commission board, to approve that? No. 2, do we need a budget amendment to do this? I have a copy of the email if you need to see it."

County Attorney Borden Parker said that the change was discussed at the board's work session last week on ways to solve problems with the payroll system.

"It is my opinion the board would need to approve the change of the way the pay is done," Parker said. "A budget amendment, if it is going to cost more, would ultimately have to be made before the end of the year."

However, Mayo said the decision had already been made and that commissioners had had no "say-so" in approving it.

"I have not voted yea or nay on this issue either way as a commissioner," he said.

Smith said it was his fault, but that in the discussion with the board he had asked if any one on the board had an issue with such a change.

"Maybe I made an assumption, and maybe I shouldn't have," he said. "But that was the assumption I had that the board didn't really have a problem with it.

"I did state I would bring the budget amendment back to you as soon as we had it. Obviously, I needed to move toward something to resolve the issue of overtime."

The change was needed to simplify what is the confusing and unfair fluctuating workweek now used to calculate overtime for EMS employees, he said.

"It is diminishing returns, the longer they work they get paid such a small amount," Smith said. "It gave no incentive to work more.

"Obviously we have money in the budget to cover time as it is. I approve overtime all of the time in different departments. As long as it is in the confines of the budget I have never brought overtime issues to the board in my 11 years. In this case we will bring back budget amendments to show you exactly what it is."

Smith said he had met with his staff, executive team and OES staff and asked for the information that would be brought to commissioners as soon as possible.

The change will affect scheduling as well as the number of hours worked by part-time employees, Smith said. Now there is more incentive to work more than 40 hours, reducing the need for part-time hours, he said.

"I think you can afford it and I think they deserve that time," he said.

Mayo said that he didn't disagree, but that he wanted to ensure the county had gone through the correct channels.

Mayo said he had heard the OES payroll would increase if the county switches to straight time and time-and-a-half overtime.

"I would like to know as a commissioner how much that is going to be, what the projection is and do a budget amendment to give us some information," Mayo said. "I am not against what we are saying. I am just questioning the protocol that took place. The only thing that I know is that I haven't voted on anything of this nature, and, according to our county attorney we, as commissioners, should be involved in the decision-making."

It can be difficult to estimate overtime in a budget, Smith said. For example, Sheriff Cary Winders tries to estimate what overtime will be, he said. However, there could an unexpected major crime scene that requires a large amount of overtime. EMS is the same, he said.

Smith said his estimation for the rest of the year is at least an additional $200,000. However, he said he hopes that revenues generated by EMS and Wayne NET, the county's non-emergency ambulance transport system, would be used to pay that.

Mayo said another issues was that commissioners were to get a payroll breakdown for September. That is correct, Smith said. The information had been given to him by the finance department just as board members walked into the room.

"It was my understanding that in concept you were fine with it," Smith said again. "We were trying to find ways for our revenue to pay for it because I do think it is the right thing to do. I think it is the fair thing to do."

Gray then made a motion to switch to time-and-half effective Dec. 1. Before the vote, he amended the motion to include leaving the base pay as is.