Working overtime

Asheville city employees raked in $1.8 million in overtime pay last year, with some earning more than 50 percent of their base pay. One Asheville Police Department sergeant made $34,191 by working extra hours.

On the clock: The city spent $1.8 million in taxpayers' money on overtime for the 2008-09 fiscal year, according to city records. Employees of the Asheville Police Department were paid the most in overtime, with the Asheville Fire Department second. Above APD officers working Bele Chere. Jonathan Welch

The taxpayer money spent on overtime is a drop in the bucket compared with the $47.5 million the city spends on base salaries for its roughly 1,100 employees. But it's a critical part of the city's annual spending plan that could be overlooked. Overtime spending can be an indicator of bad management or critical understaffing, city officials say. It can also give managers and workers valuable wiggle room to meet seasonal city needs or handle unforeseen circumstances.

Because of the pressures that the sluggish economy has put on city coffers, however, that cushion just got smaller. Officials cut overtime pay from 5 to 10 percent in all but one department for fiscal 2009-10, which started July 1. The Asheville Fire Department — the second largest user of overtime behind the Asheville Police Department — was the lone exception. It is essential to maintain an adequate standard of fire protection, city officials say.

"You certainly have to have an overtime cushion," Asheville City Councilman Carl Mumpower says. "But if it becomes the practice versus the exception, you're using it to compensate for manpower and resource gaps. That's bad management if you're doing that routinely."

Figuring out the best use of overtime can be tricky for cities, which provide such a wide variety of services. Asheville Building Safety Department workers won't often get called out to an emergency, for example, whereas Water Resource Department workers must respond to calls about line breaks. Water department workers who made the most money in overtime last year were focused on keeping the water system up and running and often responded to calls after hours, according to Water Resources Director Steve Shoaf.

"They have a 24-hour obligation to be on call," Shoaf says.

Assistant City Manager Jeff Richardson says the city has a policy to manage OT that helps. Managers receive monthly and quarterly reports on overtime spending, and OT spending is formally reviewed during the annual budget process. While high overtime spending might indicate the need to hire additional workers, says Richardson, that determination requires a deeper look. Hiring additional full-time staff also brings added expenses, such as health benefits, uniforms, training and equipment. It might not make sense from a budgetary standpoint, he says.

"We're looking for judicial use of overtime resources," Richardson says. "It's critical for us to have the ability to use overtime in a judicious way."

Police and firefighters take home the most in overtime pay because of the unusual nature of their jobs and a set of separate rules for their pay set forth by the federal government. In the last fiscal year, overtime for APD officers totaled almost $1 million dollars. That's almost three times the overtime paid out by the Asheville Fire Department, which is next on the list at $344,825.

Over and above: Who's getting the most overtime

by J.S.

Here's a look at the departments within the city of Asheville that paid the most in overtime pay during the 2008-09 fiscal year. In total the city spent $1.8 million on overtime.

Asheville Police Department: $923,350
Employees paid most in overtime:
• Luke Bigelow, sergeant — $34,191
• Ernest F. Welborn, sergeant and hostage-negotiations team — $32,232
• Eric Lauffer, drug-suppression unit sergeant — $25,522

Asheville Fire Department: $344,825
Employees paid most in overtime:
• Joe T. Robinson, fire engineer — $19,062
• Thomas G. Haynie, captain, company officer — $15,422
• Eric J. Velez, captain, company officer — $10,329

Water Resources Department total: $235,330
Employees paid most in overtime:
• McKinley E. Allen, water maintenance worker — $9,708
• Frank D. Hyatt, water maintenance worker — $9,298
• Randy K. Smith, water maintenance worker — $8,580

Parks and Recreation Department total: $133,848
Employees paid most in overtime:
• Samuel Lindsey, labor crew supervisor — $31,728
• Mark Davis , turf specialist— $4,875
• Cristin C. Lee, events specialist — $3,985

Public Works Department total: $127,323
Employees paid most in overtime:
• Kevin Haughinberry, stock room supervisor — $6,589
• Bernard McDowell, labor crew coordinator — $6,100
• Julian A. Chapman, labor crew coordinator — $5,102

The APD also has the individual city employees who received the most overtime pay. Sgt. Luke Bigelow, who received $34,191 in overtime last year, came in first overall, and Sgt. Ernest Welborn, who works criminal investigations and is also a member of the hostage negotiation team, earned $32,232 and came in second.

Why all the extra hours? According to APD spokesperson Melissa Williams, much of it comes from the nature of downtown Asheville as a dense hub for events, tourism and transportation. She cites the recent Phish concert, "where we required more officers for traffic and crowd control."

"The remainder of the extra work hours comes through their regular duties, such as longer hours required at the scene of a homicide or a special operation," he says.

Lt. Wally Welch, who manages overtime for the APD, says there's simply no dodging some of its overtime needs.

"There's state-mandated training for the entire department. That's a big one," Welch says. "There's also court duties. That's another big chunk."

Some officers consistently request overtime, and fatigue is "always a concern," he adds. The APD has a policy that officers have to have at least eight hours off between "augment assignments," such as helping with festival security, and their regular shift.

"It's a balancing act, who gets what hours," he says. "Sometimes people will have to give up or not be able to take [overtime] days, and you have others who constantly request it, who need that money for whatever reason. We try to be fair, but also make sure their head's in the game and they don't get burnt out."

But does this mean that the APD is understaffed?

"For the most part we do pretty well," Welch says, adding that the recession has actually helped the situation.

"Back when the economy was good, we had a lot of requests [from the community] for additional assignments, and it was tough to keep up. But now there's less of that and things have calmed down a bit."

Contact Jason Sandford at jsandford@mountainx.com and David Forbes at dforbes@mountainx.com.

See a spreadsheet of all Asheville City employee overtime pay here or download as an Excel spreadsheet

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15 thoughts on “Working overtime

  1. Funny, when I held a party at the YMI last week, my campaign was required to pay for the services of a police officer. (And I was happy to pay.)

    Why aren’t concert promoters required to pay for extra police protection? For example, how is it that the Phish concert required overtime officers but didn’t have to pay for them? Basically, we taxpayers are subsidizing the promoter’s profits.

  2. In the article, Margaret Williams cites the Phish concert specifically as a cause for overtime costs, which would appear to suggest that the concert promoter did not pay for the coverage.

    It seems reasonable that city police would patrol city sponsored events … but your question is a good one in that it makes one wonder if the cost of extra police effort is included in the figures we are shown for the cost of festivals. That should be clearly accounted as one of the costs and included in any debate about the value to the city of sponsoring such events.

  3. I meant they do for the security in and around the concert. Just like you did for your event.

    Things out of the control of the concert, ie public safety and traffic control are rightly the responsibility of the city.

    Is that more clear?

  4. LOKEL

    Luke Bigelow needs to be investigated for the amount of hours he allegedly worked overtime …. the amount he was paid for OT is more than half what he makes in salary …..

  5. My take is that things out of control at a concert are the responsibility of the person(s) putting on the concert. I mean, absent the concert, there would have been no control to get out of.

    It is not my responsibility as a taxpayer to provide benefits for concert promoters or developers. We need for those who profit from use of our city to pay their way.

  6. whosaywhat?

    Doesn’t reporter Jason Sandford date/live with one of the people quoted in this story, APD spokesperson Melissa Williams?

  7. JamesL

    There’s your inexperience with municipal government. The Police have a responsibility to meet the needs of the entire city, including the urban area, which requires them to adjust to changing demands when areas of town see greater concentrations of crowds or any number of other scenarios. They aren’t charged with providing event security, but they also don’t get to make calls like armchair quarterbacks about some event organizer being responsible for everything happening downtown on the night of their event. It’s this kind of gross oversimplification of serious issues by council members and hopeful candidates that puts the city in a position where these needs are not properly funded in the first place.

  8. bobaloo

    Why aren’t concert promoters required to pay for extra police protection? For example, how is it that the Phish concert required overtime officers but didn’t have to pay for them?

    Because then they wouldn’t come here. It’s pretty simple. But hey, if you’d rather we don’t have any nationally known acts in Asheville, that’s your opinion. Go ahead and campaign on that one.

    This is the conundrum for many like Mr. Bothwell. You love how eclectic and unique Asheville is, but you don’t want any of the attention it draws because of it.

    Also, if you can show that it’s standard practice for promoters to fund security on city streets during their event, you may have a point.

  9. bobaloo

    In addition, wouldn’t it be a better idea to have a surcharge on big name tickets to help pay for the security?

  10. lance

    Our assistant city manager explains:

    “We’re looking for judicial use of overtime resources,”

    That explains everything. Thanks, Longfellow.

  11. Yo, bobaloo. Great idea! Surcharge on big name tix.

    But where do you get the idea that I don’t want nationally known acts to include Asheville on tours? All I was suggesting was that it might be good for those big events to pay more of the freight. Whether you call it a surcharge on tickets, or a higher fee for use of the Civic Center, or a security fee for the promoter doesn’t make much difference. Adding a dollar to a $30 or $60 ticket wouldn’t change attendance at mega concerts by much, and it could defray some security costs.

  12. Jon Elliston

    whosaywhat? wrote: “Doesn’t reporter Jason Sandford date/live with one of the people quoted in this story, APD spokesperson Melissa Williams?”

    Yes, he does. Accordingly, we had the other reporter on this story, David Forbes, handle all of the reporting and writing on the APD parts of the story.

    Jon Elliston, managing editor

  13. Piffy!

    [b]”Back when the economy was good, we had a lot of requests [from the community] for additional assignments, and it was tough to keep up. But now there’s less of that and things have calmed down a bit.[/b]

    Hunh?

  14. TFA

    I think the question is, do fees charged by APD for their services to private events (such as Mr. Bothwell’s party in the first comment above) offset some or all of this overtime cost? I mean, if any significant portion of this $1.8 million was offset by income that tangibly was received as compensation for the services, that should be noted. For instance, the Parks & Rec people working at McCormick Field getting overtime– is the city’s overtime expense billed out to the Tourists to recoup the money?

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