Louisville Metro employees received about $24 million in overtime payments during calendar year 2014, according to data provided by the city.
Of that, about $13 million is considered “unscheduled” overtime, meaning the funds weren’t budgeted for and will be paid via the city’s general fund, said Theresa Reno-Weber, the chief of performance and technology for Louisville Metro.
In a 2012 report, city officials laid out a number of recommendations aimed at reducing unscheduled overtime pay in the coming years. As WDRB reported, the city was successful in slashing the figure by about $1.4 million. But in the following fiscal year the amount of overtime paid out surged again because of a harsh winter, a delayed fire department recruit class and a string of violence in downtown Louisville that led to the call for a boosted police presence downtown.
The overtime rate for the current fiscal year has remained “constant” with what it was in fiscal year 2014, following the increase, Reno-Weber said.
“But that’s not hitting our goal, what we want to do is to continue to drive it down,” she added.
However some progress is being made, Reno-Weber stressed. She said EMS has reduced unscheduled overtime “by about $1 million,” she said and some divisions within LMPD have made improvements in cutting unscheduled overtime by as much as 40 percent.
“Our goal is to try and scale those initiative so that you do ultimately see an improvement in unscheduled overtime across the city,” Reno-Weber said.
Just more than 4,300 city employees were paid unscheduled overtime in 2014, according to data provided by Louisville Metro. And 122 employees were paid more than $15,000 in unscheduled overtime.
Louisville Metro Police comprises about 31 percent of all unscheduled overtime. The rest went to employees in Metro EMS, Metro Corrections, Public Works, Youth Detention Services, MetroSafe/EMA and Louisville Fire & Rescue, Reno-Weber said.
Based on the number of full-time employees, Youth Detention Services pays more in overtime compared to all other city departments, Reno-Weber said.
She said all departments that spent the most on overtime provide 24/7 services and therefore cannot have any vacant positions during a shift.
“They have to have somebody in there,” she said.
And vacancies, due to understaffing or sickness, along with policies that allow city employees to earn overtime pay without working more than 40 hours a week are factors that attribute to overtime payouts that burden city government, Reno-Weber said.
Continuing to drive that number down across the city, though, is an “uphill battle,” she said.
As the number of hours being reported as unscheduled overtime city-wide wane, the amount of dollars being paid out generally remains the same because of an increasing cost of living and pension costs, Reno-Weber said.
Getting the amount of hours to drop is an effort that has been fueled, in part, by education, Reno-Weber said.
“Management should play a role and make sure that the overtime being used is truly necessary and is delivering what is necessary for our citizens,” she said. “Just through some tighter management controls and really where overtime is being used we were able to see some changes there.”
Daro Mott, a deputy director with the office of performance improvement, said several initiatives are underway to lower the amount of unscheduled overtime in certain departments.
He said filling vacancies is key and improving the “cycle time for hiring within the Emergency Management Agency” has yielded “great savings” in overtime pay outs.
Another factor in decreasing overtime figures came through efforts to remove a contract policy that allowed city employees to apply sick or vacation time towards a work week—that meant an employee who did not work 40 hours in a week would be able to still earn overtime pay, Mott said.
In recent years city officials have negotiated that sick and vacation time will not count as time worked with “all of the union contracts that have come up for ratification,” Reno-Weber said.
“The Teamsters contract in Public Works still has sick and vacation counting as time worked,” Reno-Weber said in an email statement. “When that contract is negotiated we will work with the union to make the language consistent with the other contract.”
The reclassification of certain positions with Public Works has also saved the city nearly $100,000 in unscheduled overtime pay in the most recent fiscal year, Mott added.
Reno-Weber said completely nixing overtime is not a possibility and never will be.
“There is always going to need snow events and there is always going to be crime that police need to respond to that isn’t just straight time,” she said. “It will never be zero.”
But there are improvements that can still be made, she added, like continuing to renegotiate labor union contracts that remove the ability of workers to claim sick or vacation time and still get overtime.
“We are going to continue to look for the opportunities that make sense, to go after what we think will have an impact on the unscheduled overtime issue,” Reno-Weber said.