OT must be brought un­der con­trol: coun­cil­lors

City politi­cians con­sider freeze on all but es­sen­tial over­time spend­ing; higher HSR driver ab­sen­teeism also tar­geted

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN mvan­don­gen@thes­pec.com 905-526-3241 | @Mat­tatthes­pec

The City of Hamil­ton is now eye­ing a freeze on all “non-es­sen­tial” over­time just days af­ter hand­ing walk­ing pa­pers to 23 man­agers and non-union staff.

Mo­tions from coun­cil­lors Sam Merulla and Chad Collins Fri­day di­rect city staff to re­port on what it would cost to im­ple­ment more so­phis­ti­cated, stan­dard­ized over­time track­ing and the im­pact of stop­ping all dis­cre­tionary over­time spend­ing for the year.

Merulla ar­gued the city needs to ad­dress a “cul­tural is­sue” of man- agers who are too com­fort­able pay­ing “non-es­sen­tial” over­time.

“We need to push the en­ve­lope at this point to make it un­com­fort­able,” he said.

It’s not yet clear how the city will de­fine “non-es­sen­tial” over­time in its study, but Merulla said he would con­sider “public safety-re­lated” am­bu­lance ser­vice and sched­uled tran­sit trips as “es­sen­tial” ser­vices.

Tran­sit and emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices ac­counted for the vast ma­jor­ity of last year’s $16.8 mil­lion in over­time-re­lated costs, in­clud­ing “standby” and banked hol­i­day earn­ings. That to­tal was also down from the $18.4 mil­lion and $17.9 mil­lion spent in 2015 and 2014, re­spec­tively.

But Collins pointed out the city “con­sis­tently” un­der-bud­gets for over­time ev­ery year and is then forced to make up the dif­fer­ence. For ex­am­ple, the city ended up pay­ing nearly $4 mil­lion more over­time than bud­geted last year. Over­ages of be­tween $2 mil­lion and $3 mil­lion have been com­mon since 2010.

The city is al­ready tar­get­ing tran­sit over­time with closer study of higher-than-av­er­age driver ab­sen­teeism, which is a “ma­jor driver” of over­time, said public works gen­eral man­ager Dan McKin­non. He said a re­port on the is­sue is pend­ing.

The mo­tions con­tinue a ramped-up coun­cil ef­fort to cut $20 mil­lion out of this year’s oper­at­ing bud­get, which be­fore re­cent cuts threat­ened an av­er­age tax hike of four or five per cent.

Fol­low­ing this week’s job cuts, city staff es­ti­mated the city’s av­er­age tax hike would be closer to 2.8 per cent if coun­cil ap­proved the bud­get as is.

Fur­ther de­bate is ex­pected, how­ever, on pos­si­ble bud­get in­creases — in­clud­ing $1 mil­lion to ex­tend “liv­ing-wage” pay in­creas- es to about 500 part-time, ca­sual or sea­sonal city work­ers like cross­ing guards and li­brary pages.

The city al­ready pays all full­time work­ers the $15.85 liv­ing wage, a term used to de­scribe the hourly rate needed to al­low a house­hold to meet ba­sic needs.

Close to a dozen liv­ing-wage ad­vo­cates showed up at Fri­day’s meet­ing ex­pect­ing a de­bate, but coun­cil­lors put off dis­cus­sion on all pro­posed bud­get in­creases to an un­sched­uled meet­ing in March.

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