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Overtime Can Be a Boon or Bust for Agencies’ Budgets

Overtime pay is laden with negative press. But when wielded correctly, it can be a useful tool for agencies to manage their budgets.

State and local governments’ revenue shortfalls mean there is a heightened imperative for agencies to manage their funds well. Overtime is one area that can either be a boon or bust for agencies’ purses.

Last year, the Georgia Corrections Department doled out $4 million more than expected for overtime pay. Instead of the budgeted $22 million, the agency paid $26 million to correctional officers who worked overtime.

The main causes have to do with staffing vacancy and turnover rates, said Betsy Thomas, Director of Human Resources at the department. In some facilities, there is up to a 60% vacancy rate, which means more correctional officers have to be called in to work overtime, Thomas said at GovLoop’s online training Thursday.

“There are a whole bunch of vital government functions that government performs which [it] may have a little difficulty hiring for. And when you have difficulty hiring for them, either you don’t provide the service or you use overtime,” said Richard Greene, Principal at Barrett and Greene, Inc. and co-writer of a whitepaper examining overtime at state and local governments.

The staffing and overtime challenges that the 10,000-people Georgia Corrections Department faces, smaller agencies face too. The East Fork Fire Protection District in Minden, Nevada, staffed with 100 personnel, faced a crisis in 2018 when some of their firefighters had to work seven to eight shifts in a row. Shifts are 24 hours long.

“That comes with overtime costs, as well as personnel and human cost even more so in terms of burnout and potential for anything to happen when the kids are fatigued,” said Troy Valenzuela, Battalion Chief.

So how can agencies use overtime well without breaking their budgets and fatiguing their people?

First, Valenzuela said agencies need to understand the number of staff needed to run operations versus simply filling vacancies that occur.

The Georgia Corrections Department has had to identify which positions are the priority, known as “priority one posts,” Thomas said. How imperatively is it that the post be filled?

“It comes down to managing the staff that we do have,” Thomas said.

Additionally, overtime budgets should be set realistically, said Katherine Barrett, Principal at Barrett and Greene, Inc. and co-writer of the overtime whitepaper. Rather than hiding or underestimating factors, the budget should be a realistic number that agencies can front at the outset, Barrett said.

“It’s going to be a big issue for governments as their revenue falls short. They’ll be wanting to control the cost of overtime as much as they can and use it as sensibly as they can,” Barrett said.

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