County wants time to look at overtime costs
By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 9, 2012 1:50 AM
Wayne County's five Republican commissioners Tuesday agreed that local taxpayers cannot afford the additional $1 million to $1.5 million annually that would be required to pay time and a half overtime pay for the county's emergency workers.
Also, they said that the original vote, which they reversed during their Tuesday meeting, had been based on incorrect information that indicated the total would be a much lower $200,000.
County Manager Lee Smith said time and half overtime would cost an estimated $250,000-plus per quarter.
"Basically, it adds one-third more to labor cost of what was budgeted for salaries in those areas per year," he said.
Chairman Steve Keen said the Tuesday work session had been called to discuss payroll problems that have persisted since July.
Commissioner Joe Daughtery said during the work session there was some misunderstanding regarding the overall cost.
"We today are faced with a dilemma, a real dilemma because at Christmastime we are having to put on the hat of the Grinch that stole Christmas," he said. "Well, I hate that, but the point is that we have to be good stewards of taxpayers' money. I want to make sure that we put this in the proper context. The proper context here is that we had employees who were concerned about getting their paycheck. This was the concern.
"They did not ask for a raise. They did not ask for a change in their compensation plan. They just wanted to get what was promised to them. Because of the new payroll system, it complicated it, which I have come to learn is basically a unique way of computing time and their overtime. The point is EMS staff simply wanted to get paid in a timely manner of what they had earned. What happened instead was a massive burden on our county taxpayers."
Daughtery said he hoped the county could resolve the issue in some other method and that EMS employees would know how much they are appreciated.
"But again, we have to look at it from the standpoint of cost," he said.
The Tuesday vote to reverse an earlier board action to pay time and a half compounded a mistake made by the previous Democratic-controlled board forcing commissioners to meet in emergency session Wednesday morning.
Commissioners in October agreed that beginning Dec. 1 the Office of Emergency Services employees' overtime pay would be based on time and a half instead of the complicated fluctuating workweek that had been used.
The action also included not making any changes to the employees' base pay.
"I feel that in fairness to the taxpayers of Wayne County that further study is in order. Not to drop this, but to go back and look at it again," Commissioner Ray Mayo said during the Tuesday session. "I would like to make a motion that we change the vote of the board of commissioners of Oct. 16 that authorized the Office of Emergency Services to pay regular overtime as of Dec. 1.
"I would like to change that and make the effective date Dec. 5 to maintain the existing payroll rather than going to time and a half. I make this motion in order for us to study it and come up with a compromise that is acceptable to all of us and to the taxpayers of Wayne County."
Mayo's motion was approved 5-1. Commissioner John Bell, a Democrat, voted no. Commissioner J.D. Evans did not attend the meeting.
It was during a staff meeting following Tuesday's meeting that it was discovered that a pay period could not legally be split into two different methods of pay. Both the Oct. 16 and Dec. 4 votes had split the pay week.
That required the emergency session when commissioners voted to change the date from Dec. 5 to Dec. 9 so as to not split a pay period and to return to the old way of computing overtime.
The big concerns in regard to payroll developed over the last few months prior to the election, Daughtery said.
"Although there are a number of issues on payroll, I want to hone in on one particular part of the payroll issue, and that has to do with payment of overtime of time and a half for our EMS staff," he said. "I recognize that might be an easy course to go.
"But it is my understanding that just blanketly paying time and a half for overtime for our EMS staff, and as that was voted on continuing to keep the base pay as it was and paying time and a half for all overtime, created a massive cost to the taxpayer."
Daughtery asked Smith to provide an estimate of what the annual cost would be going forward.
The cost could be as high as $1.5 million, Smith said. By using part-time help and controlling the cost, the amount could be lowered to around $1 million, he said.
"Bottom line you are looking at cost in excess of a million dollars annually," he said.
"I said that to say this, that I don't think we understood fully the ramifications of that," Daughtery said. "If you are in mid-budget, you go in and all of a sudden increase the pay by 1 to 1 and a half million dollars in one department that kind of opens up, in my mind, it would open it up maybe in another department."
Mayo said that in the board's Oct. 16 meeting Smith had made a statement that the county would need to appropriate an additional $200,000 in the 2012-13 budget when full-time OES employees went to time and a half overtime pay.
"Now is that the way you intended that $200,000?" Mayo said to Smith.
Smith said he had met with OES and human resources staff and representatives of Ceridian, the company the county purchased the payroll system from, in September.
"We looked at cost if you changed part time the cost was around, I remember a number like $330,000, but I think that was just for a quarterly figure at the time," he said. "That $250,000 is per quarter. It is based on assumption that you will keep your part time and full time like you are. If you adjust full time, part time in any department you are able to adjust your benefit costs. There are things you can do to help reduce the costs."
Mayo said he was just going by what commissioners were told at the Oct. 16 meeting when they voted.
"Maybe it just wasn't clear," Smith said.
"Well, when it says 2012-13 budget it means it would be from eight months from the time that we voted on it, and that is the way that I took it," Mayo said. "Which if you would pro-rate that $200,000 to a full year it would be $300,000 for a full year. I can live with that as a commissioner. I can't live with $1 million to $1.5 million because that was never brought up when this vote was taken on Oct. 16.
"I want to make it clear there was not correct information that we had when we voted on this on Oct. 16."
It was not until after that point that the staff had done an in-depth analysis, Smith said. The $1.5 million is "worst case," he said.
Smith said there would not be a problem up to January, but that after that time budget adjustments would be required to cover the cost.
"That is why I think I stated that by January we are going to have to make a budget adjustment," Smith said. "That was part of my thought that we would figure out what the cost is and bring a budget adjustment to you to adjust what the additional revenues or appropriations would need to be."