Audit reveals overtime costs in KCMO have increased significantly in past few years

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Overtime costs have increased significantly over the past four years for the city of Kansas City, Mo., according to an audit released Monday morning.

The report found that from fiscal year 2010 to 2013, the city's overtime payroll jumped from $11.3 million to $17.8 million, a 58-percent increase.

The majority of the overtime hours and expenses were concentrated in four city departments: Fire, Water Services, Aviation and Public Works.

The Fire Department, which took over ambulance services in April of 2010, had the highest overtime tally at $19 million during the four-year period. In fiscal year 2011, the department accumulated $3.2 million in overtime. Just two years later, the figure had soared to $7.8 million.

City Auditor Doug Jones delivered his findings to a city council committee on Monday.

Jones told council members there were several main drivers of overtime costs. These included collective bargaining agreements with the city's unions that exceed what federal law requires, minimum staffing requirements within some departments and responding to emergencies like snow removal and water main breaks.

Jones also discovered overtime rules are not being applied consistently among city divisions. In some cases, overtime is calculated incorrectly. And in a few instances, city employees that should be exempt from overtime pay still received the extra payments.

"Consistently inconsistent is one way to put it," Jones told 41 Action News. "There are some departments that seem to be doing a good job tracking and analyzing overtime and some that are not."

Councilman John Sharp warned that large amounts of overtime can affect employees' health and productivity, while also jeopardizing public safety.

"I would not want to have a heart attack and have an employee respond when it's the 25th straight shift he's worked," said Sharp, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee.

According to the audit, 28 employees worked over 1,000 hours of overtime in the last fiscal year, an average of 25 hours per week.

Seven of the top 10 employees who worked the most overtime were from the Fire Department. In one stunning example, a firefighter who also worked as a paramedic amassed more than 3,000 overtime hours, an average of 58 hours per week.

Chief Paul Berardi told 41 Action News measures have been implemented to prevent that glaring example from repeating itself in the future.

For one, a new directive does not allow consecutive ambulance shifts. Berardi also said 13 paramedic vacancies have been recently filled. Finally, starting December 15, five pumpers will be on the street staffed with personnel who can fulfill duel roles as firefighters and paramedics.

"The cross-training will be a key for us moving forward," Berardi told 41 Action News, acknowledging some of the overtime issues are lingering effects from the 2010 ambulance takeover. "I take this seriously. We have to figure out a way to reduce that overtime expenditure."

More frequent tracking of overtime could help city departments determine if adding staff would make more financial sense than paying overtime, Jones said. In recent years, budget cuts have caused a shrinking work force at City Hall.

"When you cut staff too much, you may think you're saving a lot of money," Sharp agreed. "But if there are certain minimum standards you have to meet, you end up spending more in overtime, so those savings can be illusionary."

In his written response to the audit, City Manager Troy Schulte agreed with the recommendations.
Schulte said he will determine if revisions to the collective bargaining agreements should be presented during the next labor contract negotiations.

Schulte also said mandatory training will be developed and launched within the next 30 days. He will require  department directors to request and review overtime costs on a monthly basis.

"The audit makes clear the need to establish an enhanced training designed to educate management on the proper interpretation of pay policies and the administration of payroll requirements," Schulte wrote.

The audit did not include overtime costs from the city's police department.

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on his Facebook page.

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