Multiple agencies pushed Riverside County’s overall overtime expenses above $100 million in the previous fiscal year, with the sheriff’s department leading the pack, according to a report that the Board of Supervisors will review Tuesday.
The Office of the Auditor-Controller just completed its 2020-21 fiscal year “Full Transparency Countywide Overtime Monitoring” assessment and, according to the narrative, a total $111.1 million was paid out to cover OT costs throughout county government, compared to $116 million in the previous fiscal year, netting a drop of 4%.
Auditors focused mainly on agencies that had exceptionally higher OT outlays, including the sheriff’s department, fire department, Emergency Management Department, District Attorney’s Office, Department of Public Health, Probation Department and the Assessor-Clerk-Recorder’s Office.
Of all the audited agencies, the sheriff’s office had the largest dollar amount in overtime expenses — $58.7 million, representing a decrease of 17.5% from 2019-20.
Despite the decline, however, 311 sheriff’s employees earned OT that was at least 50% of their base pay, and of those personnel, 73% raked in OT that was 70% of their base salaries. According to the audit, one deputy sheriff was paid $137,480 in overtime, while his total regular pay amounted to $94,875.
“A review of our overtime expenditures reflects the fact that nearly 45% of sheriff’s department overtime spending last year was actually reimbursed — via grants, court security funding, special event charges and payments from the cities that contract with the department for law enforcement patrols,” according to an agency statement.
“The overtime for those operations caused no `budget overruns’ or unanticipated charges. Some overtime is inevitable, necessary and non-reimbursable in a complex, around-the-clock public safety operation.”
In percentage terms, the Department of Public Health documented the greatest increase in OT at 235.5% compared to 2019-20. According to the audit, public health staff logged just over $5 million in extra hours, whereas in the previous fiscal year, it was $1.5 million.
The sharp upward spike was directly attributed to “an effective response” to COVID-19 and the requisite “mitigation activities conducted on a 7-day-per-week schedule.”
Similarly, the Emergency Management Department, another central player in COVID response, experienced an 89% jump in OT costs, which spiked to $1.23 million, compared to $649,958 in 2019-20.
“Staff overtime generated by response and recovery efforts is dependent upon the frequency, size, scope and duration of emergency events,” the agency stated.
After achieving a drop in OT during 2019-20, the District Attorney’s Office’s extra hours outlays shot up 17% in 2020-21, going from $1.9 million to $2.25 million, according to the audit.
Staff told the Office of the Auditor-Controller that OT is granted only “when emergency situations arise.”
“The office has seen an increase in overtime in large part due to the various special operations within the county as a result of increased criminal activity,” according to an agency statement. “The office continues to ensure that fiscal responsibility is still the ultimate target without compromising the primary countywide objective of public safety.”
Figures showed that the fire department racked up $2.67 million in OT costs, roughly 7% over the previous fiscal year. According to the agency, there was “high turnover” in the Emergency Command Center, resulting in vacancies and the need for existing staff to fill slots, incurring overtime.
The Department of Probation spent $3.17 million to cover its extra-hours spending in 2020-21, a roughly 4% jump from the prior fiscal year, data showed. The prior year’s OT had surged 25%, so the recent increase was far more contained.
The Assessor-Clerk-Recorder’s Office had comparatively low OT outlays, but the percentage increase was notable — 51% — from the perspective of the auditors.
Assessor’s staff drew $794,530 in extra hours pay, compared to $525,889 in 2019-20, according to the report. The agency’s total budget in the last fiscal year was $40.56 million.
Officials said that Assessor-Clerk-Recorder personnel were strained by “workload surges” that many new staff were unable to manage, requiring career workers to log more hours to ensure there were no “public service delays.”