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Are furloughs saving Rocklin money?

City to save $600,000 by furloughs, but spends $67,100 on overtime
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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Overtime pay for city of Rocklin workers may be lessening the cost-saving impact of mandatory furloughs. For the last three years in the face of layoffs and annual budget deficits, one cost cutting strategy within the city requires a portion of the non-police and fire workforce to take unpaid time off. Those employees take 13 days a year off, or once a month, with two days off in April. The result is one pay check each month is smaller. While the city calls the strategy mandatory time off, it is commonly known as furloughs. Since it started in July 2009, the furloughs have saved the city nearly $600,000 annually. However, the city has also paid out tens of thousands of dollars in overtime to employees who worked over 40 hours a week. The Placer Herald’s review revealed a roller coaster of figures during the economic downturn of the past few years. Before the program was started, the city spent $126,026 on overtime during fiscal year 2007/2008. The following year, overtime dropped to $61,413. By the time the furlough started in July 2009, the city paid out $80,185 in overtime. In 2010, the first full year of furloughs, it jumped to $87,466. State law allows eligible city workers to earn overtime pay during weeks where the city is requiring them to take mandatory time off. Horst explained that on-call employees have to be able to work. “Overtime is not a planned event,” City Manager Rick Horst said. “It is for unplanned emergencies, calls for services, etc. Overtime usage will vary from year to year, month to month depending upon needs that arise beyond normal working hours.” Horst said overtime calls range from responses to emergency needs (traffic light malfunctions, water line breaks and public needs) to problems with venue rentals, public restroom needs and garbage removal following public events. City workers questioned about the practice confirmed they’ve received overtime pay during furlough weeks, but declined to speak publicly about it. It’s unclear how much the city paid for overtime on furlough days, but the city’s total overtime budget during that time was far less than the savings garnered by the furloughs, according to the city. Since the beginning of this fiscal year, the city has paid non-police and fire employees $27,983 with a budget for the whole year nearly double that amount at $67,100. Horst said he’s dropped overtime usage since he was hired in January, but can not speak about what his predecessor did. “It should be noted that overtime costs have been reduced dramatically over the preceding years with a current year budget number that is less than half of that which was budgeted last year,” Horst said. The MTO (mandatory time off) program is meeting its intended purpose.” The data provided to the Placer Herald does not distinguish between payments made to furloughed employees and payments made to employees who might receive overtime on regular work days. While workers only take one day a month off residents who come to the city on Fridays will find city offices closed for walk-in business even though workers are on the job. “Since the MTO Friday varies from month to month and since we are understaffed due to personnel reductions over the past several years, the doors are closed to the public but staff continues to work inside allowing them to catch up on their backlog of work,” Horst said. Rocklin resident Jill Fellows has been impacted by city workers taking furlough days, but said she understood the inconvenience saves the city money. Even so, she said it’s ethically questionable to get overtime during a furlough. “Overtime, following furloughs to save money, does not save money,” Fellows said. “The science behind the furloughs goes down the tubes. Even if it’s only five cents of earned overtime.” In spite of her concern, Fellows wants the city to continue its program. “I would wager they should be given a chance,” Fellows said. City offices will be closed from Friday, Dec. 23 through Jan. 2 as the city conducts its annual holiday furlough, now in its 14th year. “Traditionally, the number of routine calls handled by the city between Christmas and New Year is low,” Horst said. “This closure saves the city money and allows employees the opportunity to spend time with their families.” Emergency services will still be provided, but routine services will not be available. Mayor Brett Storey and council member Scott Yuill said they’ve never had a complaint about furloughs. Yuill said the city is reviewing the program for possible changes. “Reviewing the numbers closely is among the city manager’s plans during the budget review meetings next year,” Yuill said. Right now, the city is trying to reduce its $840,000 budget gap and reportedly may get it closer to $500,000 with positive sales tax projections as well as other cost saving measures by city departments. The city laid off three employees from the Parks and Recreation Department in July. In addition, four of the six positions addressed within the recent Voluntary Separation Program have been eliminated and will not be refilled. Storey supports furloughs, but did not comment on the overtime issue. “In the past these (furlough) days have helped us reach our budget restrictions,” Storey said. “The bottom line is that we must live within our revenues so we will have to make choices that could include furloughs, program cutbacks, reductions or a combination of all of the above.” ________ Overtime during furloughs 2007: $126,026 2008: $61,413 2009: $80,185 (furloughs began) 2010: $87,466 2011: $67,100 (budgeted) (City employees minus police and fire personnel) Source: City of Rocklin