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Large overtime payments raise questions in MontCo

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Maryland

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Some Montgomery County taxpayers are upset at the amount of overtime payments hundreds of county firefighters, police and correctional officers, and transportation employees received last year.

"[The numbers] sound like something out of 'The Daily Show,' " said Joan Fidler, the president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League. "It's just beyond belief."

More than 280 county employees earned more than $30,000 in overtime last year -- with dozens nearly doubling their regular paychecks. Several, like Chevy Chase Fire and Rescue Capt. Raymond Sanchez, put in more than 1,000 hours in overtime. Sanchez, who works a standard 48-hour workweek, logged 1,386.25 overtime hours -- the equivalent of 28.8 extra workweeks, according to county records obtained by The Washington Examiner under a Freedom of Information Act request. Bus operator Robert James worked 2,297.89 hours of overtime -- the equivalent of 57.4 extra 40-hour workweeks.

Fidler said the league plans to conduct an analysis of the county's use of overtime to assess the situation.

Montgomery County officials acknowledged they're concerned by the massive overtime paychecks, blaming the abundance of overtime hours mainly on understaffing.

But they also said it's often cheaper to ask staffers to work overtime hours than it is to hire an employee with full benefits. Still, county officials said they're working to mitigate employees' overtime hours in an effort to increase safety and productivity in the workplace.

For example, the county tries -- where possible -- to assign the lowest-paid employees to overtime hours before asking, say, a police lieutenant to pick up overtime, in order to cut costs, said Tim Firestine, the county's chief administrative officer. Officials are also working to adjust staffing in the fire department.

"In two years we haven't had a full class of firefighters," Firestine said. "Council over the years has underfunded overtime in fire departments, and we've been short on giving them good data to make good decisions on overtime."

Online at washingtonexaminer.com, commenters expressed concerns about how much the county has been paying staffers in overtime hours and wrote that excessive overtime for police and firefighters could present a safety hazard.

"This is wrong. Anyone working these hours in earnest is violating safe workplace rules and endangering themselves and others. It is especially ludicrous if those people are engaged in the work of public safety," one wrote.

Firestine said he understood residents' concerns but added that high overtime costs are not unusual -- especially for firefighters.

"It is common, but it's an issue that troubles me because people look at it and say, 'Someone shouldn't be making that much in overtime,' " he said.

awhelan@washingtonexaminer.com

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