An unanimous decision by the City Council to give all 350 plus municipal employees three days off during Christmas week that Acting Assistant City Manager Lisa Blackmon assured them in a staff report would have “no fiscal impact” could end up costs taxpayers up to $240,000.
That’s because “essential employees” — such as police, firefighters, solid waste workers, and wastewater treatment plant operators have to work every day. In the case of police and fire, it is 24/7. Those essential workers will be provided the equivalent of three working shifts off as floating days that must be used prior to July 1, 2020. When those employees take the day off, their shifts still have to be covered meaning it may require having other employees work at time and a half to meet minimal staffing requirements.
More than a half dozen city workers have told the Bulletin they were told by management that the three days off was being done as a way of boosting staff morale in light of the firing, departure, and placement of numerous department heads on paid administrative leave. The staff memo to the council noted the reason for the three days off was because of how Christmas fell this year and the fact they expected a lot of requests from staff for time off the week of Dec. 23. City employees already have Tuesday, Dec. 24, and Wednesday, Dec. 25 off for Christmas. The staff memo also characterized the gesture as “a one-time occurrence.”
Non-essential employees essentially will be taking the three days off and get paid by using personal days or vacation days. Essential employees were given three floating days off. In the case of solid waste and wastewater treatment plant employees that represents three 8-hour days. For police, it represents three 10-hour days. And when it comes to firefighters it represents three 24-hour days based on their shift work.
Floating days likely
to mean OT fill in
for minimal staffing
When any essential worker takes time off, someone needs to work their job based on minimum staffing levels. That means their replacement workers will like;yb be paid time and a half.
To illustrate how there is a fiscal impact, take the Manteca Police force as an example. Sworn officers and dispatchers are essential workers.
An average police officer makes $41.93 an hour. Time and a half overtime pay is $629 per 10-hour shift. Three 10-hour shifts is $1,887. Multiple that by 77 officers and the cost is $141,525. That doesn’t include dispatchers.
The $141,525 represents money that could have been spent to hire another police officer or one of the five additional officers dedicated to traffic enforcement that Mayor Ben Cantu is pushing to hire.
The city administration argues that there is really no fiscal impact as the money has been budgeted as overtime.
Council action skirts
several basic issues
But that ignores several basic issues. First, the previous city council — working with City Manager Tim Ogden who has been on paid administrative leave since September — worked with department heads to build the current budget to reduce OT that had been spent in previous years especially for police and fire. The money spent to hire additional frontline public safety employees was partially justified in being able to avoid and/or save on overtime. During public discussions at council meetings, department heads shared reasons the overtime was needed due to ongoing high profile incidents such as major accidents or murder investigations, court appearances on days off, filling in for personal on workman’s compensation leaves, and others staffing issues.
City has busted overtime
budgets in previous years
A check of previous budgets shows the fire and police have often exceeded what was set aside for OT expenses. That means the three floating days for non-essential employees due to minimal staffing requirements is likely to bust the OT budget in a significant manner even if department heads do everything possible to contain costs.
One reason those costs will be difficult to control is at a specific point each year if employees reach the maximum they can bank in vacation, they can cash out what excess they have. In the case of firefighters that cash out will cost taxpayers up to $3,000 per employee. The frontline fire personnel represents a potential $110,000 hit on the pocketbook of taxpayers.
It may also fall into the gray area of “gift of public funds” given taxpayers are getting nothing in return for the up to $240,000 that will be spent as the three days are not part of a negotiated contract.
It also ends up treating non-essential employees different than essential employees. That’s because non-essential employees will not have a chance to bank overtime for working for another employee while almost all of the fire, police, and solid waste divisions will. The number of wastewater treatment plant employees involved is minimal in comparison.
The other issue is how the ultimate cost of the morale gesture is when it comes to opportunity costs. Spending up to $240,000 in overtime costs to make the days off possible means that money can’t be spent on other things such as repairing streets. The $240,000 represents over a quarter of what the city gets a year in Measure M sales tax receipts to pay for the upkeep of streets.
Acting city manager
releases staff statement
In a statement issued by “city staff” released Sunday by Acting City Manager Miranda Ludlow it was noted “The City Council recently approved a Winter Holiday Closure at the City Hall. The action included the additional time off granted to employees in the form of three additional floating holidays to cover the of closure of City offices on December 23, 26, and 27. This was done to show appreciation of employees via an action by the City Council and award City staff more time to spend with their families during the holiday week. This additional time granted will result in no additional fiscal impact as a result of the granting of these floating holidays to City staff. The floating holidays will have no monetary value, in and of themselves, and will lapse as of July 1, 2020 if not used.
“For Emergency Services staff, the additional floating holidays might require coverage which could lead to overtime costs but quantifying an amount is difficult and the possible costs are unknown. For these Emergency Services staff, pre-approved time off in the next 6 months would likely have already been scheduled and require overtime coverage regardless of whether or not the three floating holidays were approved. These floating holidays will cause additional time off but these days will be utilized for already scheduled time off.”
The additional time off for municipal employees was approved as part of the consent calendar at last Tuesday’s council meeting.
Councilwoman Debby Moorhead had the item removed for discussion but only to ask whether steps were being taken if someone needed water turned on during that week due to moving into a new home.
Staff indicated an emergency number would be posted to accommodate such needs and an on-call worker dispatched.
City currently has an
acting finance director
The city currently has an acting finance director. Jeri Tejeda had been placed on administrative leave in September. Earlier this month with whatever issue the council wanted to be resolved still not addresses, she resigned to accept a similar position elsewhere.
Since September when Ogden was put on paid administrative leave — whatever issue was behind that has not been resolved — Acting City Manager Miranda Lutzow has fired Public Works Director Mark Houghton and placed Police Chief Jodie Estarziau on paid administrative leave.
In the past month Community Development Director Greg Showerman — after repeatedly being lectured by Cantu at council meetings that he essentially didn’t know the nuts and bolts of his job resigned to take a position with the City of Modesto Community Development Department. Cantu worked as a Manteca city planner but has been retired for nearly a decade.
Several city employees expressed concern to the Bulletin that the money that the three floating days may end up costing the city as well as other actions could put the City of Manteca on the same course of Turlock.
Turlock several years ago started aggressively spending more money on staffing and other expenses. In recent months they have been struggling to balance the municipal budget and cutback fire department funding by $1.1 million forcing station closures.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org