November 25, 2013

Kansas City’s overtime costs have jumped dramatically in recent years

Kansas City municipal government’s overtime costs have skyrocketed, and a new city audit says the city needs to do a better job managing those costs. Among the recommendations is a suggestion that the city manager do more analysis to see whether hiring additional employees might in fact save money in the long run.

Kansas City government’s overtime costs have risen sharply since 2010, according to a new city audit that recommends ways to better manage those costs.

City Council members said the audit shows the city needs to make sure its staff and salary cuts don’t inadvertently cost the city even more money in overtime.

“Let’s think about whether we’re being penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Councilwoman Jan Marcason, chairwoman of the council’s finance committee, said Monday after City Auditor Doug Jones’ presentation.

Committee member John Sharp agreed.

“We have to be careful that the savings we achieve by reducing the size of the workforce are real savings and not illusional,” Sharp said.

The council members were reacting to an audit showing that overtime costs have risen 58 percent, from $11.3 million in 2010 to $17.8 million in the 2013 fiscal year that finished April 30. Total overtime costs over those four years came to $54.7 million.

The Fire Department incurred nearly 35 percent of the costs, followed by water services with nearly 30 percent. Aviation and public works tallied 11 percent each, followed by all other city departments. The audit did not include the Police Department, which is a state agency.

Jones said his auditors had not looked at how those overtime costs compared to earlier years and had not done a thorough analysis of whether hiring more employees might actually cost less. But he said at least one department, public works, had determined that adding additional work crews would be more economical than paying overtime, and it’s hiring two new crews.

Among the audit’s other findings:

• The city’s code and collective bargaining agreements mandate overtime pay when it is not required by federal law. The audit recommended, and the city manager agreed, that the city should evaluate whether some of those provisions should be changed or renegotiated.

• At least one division calculated overtime incorrectly and paid some employees more than required, although the amount of the error was not calculated. The auditor recommended more training and better monitoring by department directors, and the city manager agreed.

• Some departments are pushing the limits for safe and healthy amounts of work, with 28 employees working over a thousand overtime hours in fiscal 2013, including long stretches of consecutive days. One firefighter/paramedic worked 25 of 28 days in regular and overtime shifts in summer 2012. The Fire Department has since issued a directive requiring a minimum of 10 hours off between consecutive ambulance shifts.

•  The auditor recommended, and the city manager agreed, that the city should periodically track overtime to make sure the city is spending its money wisely. The city manager said he has asked the finance and human resources departments to develop information systems to evaluate the data and track trends.

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