City employees rack up $6 million in overtime

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.

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.

Kershaw earned $56,317.07 in overtime two years ago. Battalion Chief Kevin Diamond's overtime climbed from about $60,800 in 2010 to $83,800 in 2011. In all, the top 10 in 2010 earned a total of $521,429.94, or less than half what they earned in 2011.

Vasin estimated that firefighters worked on average about 3,300 hours last year, while Kershaw alone working more than 4,000. A 40-hour, 52-week work year is 2,080 hours.

"There's no question there was large amounts of overtime in the Fire Department budget," said Costa Mesa Firefighters Assn. President Tim Vasin. "The amount of overtime that all the firefighters worked last year is probably more than we have in our past history ... over the past few years we've downsized. We're doing more with less."

Hatch agreed, saying the city has idled its hiring while it begins to receive bids for outsourcing city services.

"When you compare the cost of hiring someone to the cost of paying for some hours at an overtime rate, it does make some financial sense to make some overtime payments, given the situation we're in," Hatch said.

Costa Mesa Police Assn. President Jason Chamness blamed the council for the expense.

"They have reduced the police force by more than 30 officers. There are not enough full-time officers to keep up with the demand in our city," Chamness said. "This is entirely the council majority's fault."

Vasin echoed Chamness' comments.

"The bottom line is the council decided to move forward at such a fast pace," he said. "There was no planning, no opportunity to plan to account for how the workload was going to be divvied up and handled, and how the service levels are going to continue to be sustained before [the council] decided to create vacancies and eliminate positions."

josephserna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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