Las Vegas Sun

July 23, 2014

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Overtime total jumps again

Local government overtime rose sharply in Southern Nevada in the past fiscal year, continuing a trend that some experts attribute to poor management.

Overall at governments throughout Clark County, overtime jumped 15 percent from $79.6 million in fiscal 2006 to $91.5 million in fiscal 2007, which ended June 30, according to figures provided by municipalities.

Since 2001 local governments have spent more than $375 million on overtime, something management experts suggest shows that the governments are not putting enough effort into filling vacant positions and creating new ones to keep pace with growth.

"That is a lot of money," said Michael Shires, a public policy professor at Pepperdine University. "My sense is Las Vegas probably has some managerial challenges that it needs to look at."

Southern Nevada officials, however, contend that it is often cheaper to hand out overtime to existing employees to maintain proper service levels rather than pay for new positions and the added employee benefits that come with them.

Management experts, though, counter that in many cases, it would be more cost effective for governments to use the money now going to overtime to hire more workers - and pay them straight time rather than time and a half or double time.

The Sun reported in February that, largely because of hefty amounts of overtime, 16 percent of the valley's public employees earned more than $100,000 in the past year. That is more than twice the median household income in the Las Vegas area - $47,320, according to the 2006 Las Vegas Perspective, a Nevada Development Authority publication - and makes many of the local public jobs among the best-paying of their kind in the nation.

Among local governments, North Las Vegas had the largest overtime increase - 43 percent - in the just-ended fiscal year, shelling out $8.3 million, mostly to police, firefighters and jailers. Since 2001, overtime in the city has skyrocketed by 286 percent.

City Manager Gregory Rose said officials are constantly struggling to maintain staffing levels in North Las Vegas, now the nation's fastest growing city.

"To continue to provide the infrastructure and make sure the public is safe, at this time we have to use overtime," Rose said. "We recognize we're using a high amount. But we also recognize we have to provide the services that residents expect."

Metro Police, funded by Las Vegas and Clark County, experienced a 33 percent rise in overtime, from $19.1 million in fiscal 2006 to $25.4 million in fiscal 2007. Since 2001 the department has spent $101.5 million on overtime.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie said there were several reason s the department spent an additional $6.3 million this past year.

The majority of the money, he said, went toward staffing a vastly overcrowded detention center, stationing more officers at McCarran International Airport during a run of heightened national terrorism alerts, responding to security requests for a growing number of special events and keeping the department's emergency call center fully staffed 24 hours a day.

"I think we're doing a good job as an organization paying close attention to overtime," Gillespie said.

In Las Vegas, overtime climbed 13 percent , from $17.2 million in 2006 to $19.5 million in fiscal 2007, pushing the city's overall increase in overtime since 2001 to a whopping 523 percent, the biggest by far of any local government. Las Vegas spent $3.1 million on overtime in 2001.

"An increase in that amount can only spell abuse," said Pete Sepp, a spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, a government watchdog group based in Washington. "It's simply atrocious and out of bounds. I don't think there has been a 500 percent increase in the services provided."

Sepp said while large overtime payments have been seen in governments across the country, he could not recall any increase as steep as those in the valley.

"This may well be the height of overtime achievement in the United States," he said.

The city's fire department and detention center soaked up 80 percent of Las Vegas' overtime in the past year, officials said.

Mark Vincent, the city's finance director, said he was not concerned about the 13 percent rise in overtime in fiscal 2007.

"My personal opinion is I don't think the increase is that significant," he said.

But in Clark County, the valley's largest public employer, officials aren't happy about a much smaller 4 percent overtime hike, from $28.2 million in fiscal 2006 to $29.5 million in 2007. The county fire department accounted for more than 40 percent of that increase. Overall, county overtime has risen 151 percent since fiscal 2002.

"I'd like to see us do better," County Manager Virginia Valentine said. "It's a big cost to the county. The more efficiently we can manage it, the more we will have for other critical needs."

Valentine said the fire department has been working to reduce overtime. But it has been hamstrung, to a degree, by a collective bargaining agreement with the firefighters union that guarantees increases in pay and benefits that contribute to higher overtime costs.

Outside the agreement, Valentine said, officials have sought to decrease the amount of sick leave and time allotted for firefighters' professional training, both of which also have contributed to the rising overtime numbers.

Boulder City, the smallest of the municipalities reviewed by the Sun, had a 10 percent rise in overtime, from $375,529 in fiscal 2006 to $413,372 this past fiscal year.

In one bright spot, the latest figures show that Henderson's overtime payments decreased 3 percent , from $8.9 million in fiscal 2006 to $8.7 million in 2007.

Like the other municipalities, Henderson's overtime expenses stem from understaffing in its public safety departments. The police and fire departments accounted for 67 percent of overtime - $5.8 million - in fiscal 2007.

Henderson Budget Director Richard Derrick said both departments are working hard to curtail overtime.

But he added: "No matter what ends up happening, we're going to incur overtime."

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