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City employees rack up $6 million in overtime

Smaller staffing levels lead to more overtime compensation. Police union president blames the council's staff reductions for the expense.

March 09, 2012|By Joseph Serna

Costa Mesa city employees brought home more than $6 million in overtime in 2011, nearly a $1-million increase from the year prior.

The numbers indicate that, due to staffing reductions, fewer employees worked longer hours in 2011 than in 2010.

In 2010, 418 employees earned $5,127,094.34 in overtime. Last year, 357 workers earned $6,095,358.31.

"The challenge that we had this year with overtime is directly connected to a lot of the changes that are occurring and the studying that's occurring," said city CEO Tom Hatch, who pointed to positions left unfilled in the Fire Department while the city considers outsourcing work. "Before we fill all those vacant positions throughout the organization, we're continuing to hold quite a few positions vacant for the purpose of having flexibility for the availability of making changes."

The highest 100 overtime pay recipients in 2011 were either sworn and non-sworn members of the police and fire departments. Other employees who worked long hours included emergency dispatchers and animal control officers.

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But the pared-down payroll affected more than just public safety.

Hatch said his secretary, Kelly Shelton, saw a dramatically increased workload — enough for three people.

In 2010, Shelton earned $3,861 in overtime. In 2011, as one of the city's few hourly assistants, she earned $16,285.50 in O.T.

The city's contract with the Costa Mesa Fire Department requires a minimum of 28 on-duty firefighters. There are 91 Fire Department positions, but only 78 are filled, leaving the department to fill in for the 13 vacancies. A proposal by the Orange County Fire Authority last year to take over fire services for Costa Mesa would have reduced the minimum staffing requirement.

"When they say it's vacant positions, here's the deal: That's code word for that position has been left vacant and needs to be filled because of minimum manning," said Councilman Steve Mensinger. "We don't bring in people for positions we don't need."

Overtime increased as a result. Fire Battalion Chief Bill Kershaw, for example, earned 79% of his base salary in overtime alone, or $109,525.23 in the calendar year, to complement his $138,743.89 base pay.

In fact, the top 10 overtime recipients in Costa Mesa last year earned nearly $810,000 and were from the Fire Department — two in administration and eight in operations.

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