On the Trail of the Legendary Comp Time Monster

Behold my latest puzzle:

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The comp time payouts come courtesy of Mr. Kozinski of DeKalb’s Finance Division; the other numbers have been taken from Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs). Also:

FTEs are the number of employees budgeted for, expressed as full-time equivalents.

Accrued payroll is all compensation (regular, overtime, paid leave) that is known to be owed to employees as of the last day of the fiscal year. It is accounted for in regular budget line items (regular pay, overtime).

Compensated absences is the long-term liability of accumulated paid leave. It is accounted for in the financial accounting system but not the budget.

You can see that both accrued payroll and the compensated absences liability have been rising. While we might pick out some special cases here — for example, higher accrued payroll and comp time payouts in certain years due to anticipated/planned reductions in force — much of the trend is due to rising wages. Here’s an example:

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What’s reflected in the upward trend? Some accrued payroll (retirements), a few promotions and…raises. For you see, even when we had this:

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…and this:

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…and other assorted bad news, and took a few stabs at re-negotiating, by and large most of the raises have been forthcoming since the market crashes, no matter what you’ve read in the newspaper.

I’m picking on the Fire Department today, but I have a similar chart for the Police Department and others in progress. My hope is that the tendency to outpace our revenues gets fixed in the new labor contracts, though I’m not holding my breath.

Anyway, let’s look at the compensated absences again.

[table id=41 /]

I’ve been trying to explain FY2009. Up until then, the annual increases in comp absences ranged from $244,000-291,000. Then suddenly, in a year that saw a major reduction in staff, there’s an increase of almost $700,000 in this liability.

It was also a year of intense pressure on department heads to reduce expenditures, including overtime.

Did you know that department heads are allowed to grant comp time in lieu of overtime?

Imagine that! Department heads can make themselves look good by taking overtime off-budget, while helping employees “save up” for retirements and other voluntary separations, and the city council need never know.

I’m not saying that IS what happened in FY2009 or any other time. It’s just a hypothesis at this point. Also I should mention that Chief Harrison of the Fire Department categorically stated in an e-mail to me that the FD has not converted overtime into comp time.

My problem — besides the unexplained bubble in the liability — is that the department heads have this power in the first place. It constitutes a bypassing of the council’s expenditure authority. This is another provision in the labor contracts and pay plan that could be fixed, perhaps by gradually lowering the caps on accumulations.

For related posts, see the CAFR tag.

Bonus Table: Fire Department Miracle Overtime Reduction

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