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Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Wage balance

City officials should work to minimize overtime, but recent storms help illustrate that extra hours sometimes are essential.

March 3, 2013

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Figures reported recently by the Journal-World about overtime wages paid to local government employees may have raised some eyebrows among taxpayers.

Paying more than $3 million in overtime to city, county and school district employees in the last year may seem like poor management, but events of the last week or 10 days have offered a vivid example of why overtime happens.

Would any local taxpayer have made the decision not to have city and county street crews work around the clock during the recent snowstorms? Would they have limited the number of police officers on the street responding to accidents or helping motorists during those storms? Would they have told trash crews to simply quit picking up trash when they reached the end of their regular shifts even if their routes weren’t complete?

The $2.37 million in overtime paid to city employees last year represented an increase of about 32 percent over the previous two years. That’s a lot of overtime, and, to their credit, city officials are looking at ways to pull it back in line. City Manager David Corliss attributed much of the rise in overtime costs to the wages paid to fire and law enforcement personnel. Police Chief Tarik Khatib defended the expense by saying that “Police work doesn’t follow a straight schedule,” and pointed out that overtime costs incurred as part of work on federal cases would be reimbursed by the federal government.

That’s good information, but there are many other, non-government jobs that don’t “follow a straight schedule.” The goal is to try to hire the right number of personnel to handle the jobs with a minimum of overtime expense. Corliss said the city is in the process of hiring new police and fire personnel to fill those needs.

Any business owner knows the importance of limiting overtime hours, but, like government entities, he or she also knows the importance of customer service. If a city water main is gushing water into the street in front of your house or you are snowbound and waiting for a plow to clear your street, you wouldn’t really care that someone was going to have to be paid overtime to come fix your problem.

It’s a balancing act. Local government officials know that, and appear to be trying to get overtime wages back in balance while continuing to provide the services taxpayers want and deserve.

Comments

Steven Gaudreau 1 year, 1 month ago

Comparing the road crew to police is apples and oranges. The weather dictates road crew schedules. Crime has not escalated at a rate where the amount of overtime is an unknown. The abuse of overtime has a long history in police departments across the country. It's treated as supplemental income by those who want the extra money. BTW, private businesses such as landscapers lay off a large number of their staff due to little work. If the business also does snow removal, the smaller staff works overtime as well but since unneeded workers were laid off, there is no huge payroll expense on the bottom line. This is the efficiency difference between private and public employers.

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Cant_have_it_both_ways 1 year, 1 month ago

They should consider a pool of unemployment and welfare types that we are paying anyway for doing nothing. Put these people on a workfare program.

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tomatogrower 1 year, 1 month ago

I think comp time should be an option. It actually costs less than overtime, since they would just pay a basic hourly wage for time off. and some people would prefer it, especially if they are putting in a lot of extra time to solve a criminal case. They may want to just get a break when they are done. I'm sure the maintenance crews who cleared the streets would have loved time off after doing all that work. Sometimes time is more important than money. Yes, I know the conservatives on this board will gasp, and accuse me of being French.

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oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 1 month ago

furlough. Darn bungee cord left me hanging

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oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 1 month ago

Very simple, fur Pugh the workers at slack times. No pay.

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