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Montgomery County lawmakers want leave, overtime abuse stamped out

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Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson,Montgomery County

Montgomery County lawmakers called Thursday for better tracking of employee leave and overtime after an oversight agency found evidence of abuse throughout the government.

More than 5,000 employees in seven county departments worked 1.1 million hours of overtime in an 18-month period, costing the county about $63.3 million, according to a report released earlier this month by the county's Office of Legislative Oversight.

While only 25 employees were reprimanded for abusing sick leave in the 18-month period studied, the legislative office found evidence that overtime and sick-leave policies are potentially abused. For example, more than 500 police and fire employees received overtime although they had worked less than half the required hours in a pay period.

Police and fire accounted for about 60 percent of all overtime costs, racking up $38.2 million.

Members of the County Council Government Operations Committee said they were concerned that there was no uniform or centralized system for tracking leave and overtime hours.

The report found that across the seven departments studied, each had a different way of how employee hours and leave were tracked. Because of the variations, sick-leave abuse was difficult to determine.

The Office of Legislative Oversight recommended the county receive biannual reports on attendance and leave and review policies on overtime and sick-leave management to reduce leave abuse and unnecessary overtime.

Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, said the county should add staff to the Office of Human Resources to determine whether a more centralized leave system could be established.

Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at large, said he was surprised there wasn't already a universal system in place.

"It seems to me like this is something that should've been put in place on day one," he said.

Chief Administrative Officer Tim Firestine said the council shouldn't look at the overtime hours as inherently bad. Overtime -- especially in agencies like Fire and Rescue Service -- is to be expected, especially when departments have minimum staffing requirements.

"Clearly overtime is one tool we have available in those 24/7 operations," he said. "It seems like we're using overtime as a bad word. ... It would be much more costly to have full-time staff."

He also said the county has avoided racking upan additional $46 million in overtime costs since CountyStat, an oversight agency for the county's executive branch, began reviewing overtime hours.

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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