04/05/13 — EMS pay to be discussed April 16

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EMS pay to be discussed April 16

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 5, 2013 1:46 PM

It will be another two weeks before Wayne County Office of Emergency Services employees will know what, if anything, will be done to address overtime payroll issues in their department.

Wayne County commissioners were set Tuesday to discuss the overtime during an afternoon work session. However, they delayed the discussion until their April 16 session citing a need for more payroll data to ensure a "more accurate decision."

"Keep in mind on Dec. 5 of last year when the original (payroll) plan was in place that when we rescinded it, it (vote) was based on us not having the facts at that time," said Vice Chairman Ray Mayo. "So two weeks is not going to make us or break us. I am in favor of giving (OES Director) Joe (Gurley) and our county manager the extra two weeks because we need to get this right this time, the first time."

Mayo's motion to that end was unanimously approved.

Payroll and overtime problems, mostly in OES, have dogged the county since last July when a new payroll system was implemented. The system, that consistently resulted in over and underpayments to employees, was scrapped by the new board when it took power in December in favor of a return to the old system.

Most of the blame for the problems has been placed on a complicated system called a fluctuating work week used to calculate overtime. In October the previous Democratically controlled board voted to replace that method with the traditional time and a half overtime.

That action was among the first items overturned when the new board, this one controlled by Republicans, assumed power in December.

Mayo, who made the motion to do so, said that the original (October) decision had been based on faulty information that it would cost the county just over $200,000 for the rest of the year.

The actual figure would be closer to $1 million to $1.5 million since the $200,000 was a quarterly estimate. Commissioners said taxpayers could not afford the $1 million or more.

While Mayo's December motion did not establish a study on overtime, he did say it needed further study. There has been no public comment on the issue since them.

However, Tuesday Chairman Steve Keen on several occasions referred to a 90-day study process by County Manager Lee Smith, the county's human resources department and Commissioner Wayne Aycock.

"The county manager has been instructed at the end of that 90-day period that this commission does want to see where the finances are and if it brings us up to date with three more months to go in our fiscal year or does it carry us into July 1 and what do we do from July 1, 2013 to 2014 in our upcoming budget," Keen said.

Smith said he had had discussions with individual board members over the past few days and also has met with staff on overtime issues. Smith then asked Aycock to comment since he had been working "hand-in-hand" with county staff.

"Back in December we made some changes and said we would come back and look at it," Aycock said. "I have been involved looking at several different scenarios to adjust the salaries of our employees. I know Joe's office has been working on it extensively and trying to work on the communications system.

"They have got some figures, but personally I don't know whether I am comfortable with the figures yet or not. We don't have any history to go on. We changed the payroll system when we left Ceridian (in December). The only data we have is January and some of the figures in January are shaky. We have February, but we do not have March's figures yet. It is the pleasure of the board whether we move forward today or not. But I have a problem with just not having enough data to finish this process today."

Smith agreed with Aycock that having the extra month would provide better data that would help commissioners make a more accurate decision about the remaining part of the current fiscal year and going into the new one.

He suggested revisiting the issue at the board's April 16 meeting.

"I am like Mr. Aycock," said Commissioner Bill Pate. "I don't want to make a hasty decision on bad data that costs a lot of money."

Aycock said he would like to see everyone involved sit down in a civilized manner and get as close a figure as possible. It is impossible to come up with an exact figure because the county doesn't know what the call volume will be or whether or not there might be a natural disaster to respond to, he said.

"Over the last 90 days I have spent some time with Joe and his staff tried to research this," said Commissioner Joe Daughtery. "It is a very complex issue. The issue is not just simply paying time and a half because most of us recognize overtime as being over 40 hours a week. That is not what we are dealing with here. I kind of equate this to something similar to a fireman's shift where a fireman reports for duty and is there on call. These shifts last for 12 hours or 24 hours.

"In our case it is 24, and the pay schedule is really complicated. We want to be fair with everyone, but we also have to recognize that these are unique shifts. I kind of go along with everyone that let's get a couple of more weeks. But we do need to make a decision on this."