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.