OT must be brought under control: councillors
City politicians consider freeze on all but essential overtime spending; higher HSR driver absenteeism also targeted
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.