City’s budget for fire dept. overtime is gone

Only three months into the new fiscal year, the budget for overtime in the Cairo Fire Department has been exhausted.
The 2016-2017 operating budget included $20,000 for overtime in the fire department and as of Sept. 30, $22,920.38 has been spent.
Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton told the city council Monday night he thought that must be an error but, on Tuesday, he said he had not budgeted enough overtime.
“I guess I blew it by not budgeting more. With the elimination of comp time, $20,000 is not going to cover it,” Addleton said.
The city manager said overtime expense is up for several departments due to the response to Hurricane Hermine.
Last November, the council voted 3-2, with Mayor Bobby Burns breaking a 2-2 tie, to eliminate compensatory time off effective Jan. 1, 2016.
Addleton said he did not take that action into consideration when developing the 2016-2017 budget, which was adopted in June.
City employees who had earned comp time and not used it prior to Dec. 31, 2015, have three years from Jan. 1, 2016, to use the time or lose it.
The policy adopted last fall also dictates that employees will be required to take comp time in lieu of using accrued annual leave for an authorized absence. If an employee is promoted to a position that was previously exempt from earning comp time, all accrued comp time will be paid prior to the effective date of the promotion. The policy also stipulates that upon separation, employees will be paid for their accumulated comp time up to the allowed maximum amount according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Employees will be paid at the current rate or the average rate of the last three years of employment, whichever is higher. Those are the only exceptions that allow for payment of comp time.
As of Oct. 31, 2015, city employees have accrued 8,408 hours of comp time valued at $135,022.11.
The majority of the accrued comp time is for the police and fire departments, according to City Manager Chris Addleton, with the police department accounting for 45 percent of the total followed by the fire department with nearly 30 percent.
Councilman Jerry Cox on Monday night repeated his call to rethink offering comp time.
He said that, properly managed, it can be an effective tool for the city.
Cox said after having read the comp time policy, he would have voted to get rid of it, too, but at some point soon he would like to discuss the issue again.
“I don’t want to do it too quickly, but I do want to do it,” Cox said.
Mayor Pro Tem James H. (Jimmy) Douglas, who presided Monday night in the absence of Mayor Burns, said based on the amount of accumulated comp time, it would take “a long time” to clear it up.
“We do have a certain time to clear this up, right?” Cox asked and Councilman Lannis Thornton said the employees had three years to use it or lose it.
Cox suggested the city manager encourage the department heads during staff meetings to prompt the employees to use the accumulated comp time.
Mayor Pro Tem Douglas credited the fire department for the detailed accounting of its monthly overtime expenses.
Addleton noted that a significant amount of overtime has been paid to Scott Cumbie, the new fire marshal.
According to the city manager, Cumbie has been involved in training to take over as fire marshal from the late Larry Ivy and has also had a backlog to catch up on.
“There was vast support to keep a fire marshal locally,” Addleton said. Otherwise, fire safety plans would have to be submitted to Atlanta for a state fire marshal to review and sign off on, the city manager said.

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