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County spent $4.8 million on overtime

By: Bruce Warren Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County spent more than $4.8 million on paid overtime to employees in 2008 during a year of budget cutbacks and layoffs. The Sheriff’s Department spent more than $3.1 million on overtime, with one officer pulling in more money in overtime than his base pay. Some residents are concerned about the expenditure, while Sheriff’s Department officials say the overtime is inherent to law enforcement and is a necessity to maintain levels of service. Corrections Officer Padilla ($66,788), Deputy Jackson ($42,057) and Deputy Hudson ($41,898) headed a top 10 list of officers who all made more than $32,000 in overtime last year, according to information released by the county auditor’s office. Padilla’s overtime of $66,788 exceeded his base salary of $63,116. Sheriff’s Department officials declined to give the officers’ first names, indicating they were helping the department out by working extraordinary hours. Undersheriff Devon Bell said adding new officers to the department is not possible due to a hiring freeze. “Law enforcement is going to have vacancies and people will get ill,” Bell said. “The only way not to incur overtime is to reduce the level of service.” Lt. Jeff Ausnow, Sheriff’s Department spokesman, also said the overtime was unavoidable. “Overtime is an absolute necessity to conduct business,” Ausnow said. “We run a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week business. It’s actually more cost-effective to pay an existing employee overtime than to hire a new employee and pay him salary and benefits. “We have made attempts to cut our overtime spending, but the nature of our business is very unpredictable. I have no way of knowing when a homicide is going to occur that forces our detectives to work seven days in a row.” The top overtime earner, however, was listed as a jail correctional officer. At another county office, the public works department piled up $411,218 in overtime. When it comes to public works’ overtime, the bulk of it is for snow removal in the Tahoe area, officials say. Placer County Supervisor Jim Holmes said the county office is looking at all overtime pay. “Our county budget office is looking into all of those budget issues now,” Holmes said. “All the departments have been given instruction to go through all their overtime and are curtailing it. We’re working very diligently to reduce that (overtime).” A number of county residents interviewed considered the county overtime expenditures to be the result of poor planning. Others support the use of overtime, especially for law enforcement. “All that overtime seems like a lot of bad planning and bad planning is always more costly than if they had planned it out,” said Jason Minton of Auburn, who works in the computer software industry. Debbie Putnam, a self-employed businesswoman in Loomis, questioned whether all the overtime was necessary. “It seems excessive to me,” Putnam said. “I would want to know the fiscal oversight. Why is so much overtime needed in the Sheriff’s Department?” Dena Erwin, public information spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department, said that $1,481,00 went to pay for officers to staff the jail when other officers called in sick. Erwin called it a “fixed position” and said officers must be paid overtime to cover those shifts. Officers are also sometimes paid to cover court cases and investigators are paid overtime when they are called out for a crime when they are not normally working. “A lot of overtime is paid when officers are held over on a shift until a crime is solved,” Erwin said. “Officers must finish their paperwork before they can go home. In law enforcement overtime is an expected part of our budget. The department appropriates money each year for overtime.” When Cheryl Dieser of Auburn was shown the county’s overtime expenditures, she definitely noticed the Sheriff’s Department. “If they want to get a handle on things they need to start with the Sheriff’s Department,” Dieser said. “Rather than all that overtime maybe they need to hire more so they can be with their families.” Other Auburn residents, such as funeral director Scott Queen and former investigator John Baker, support the overtime dollars spent by the Sheriff’s Department. “They need overtime to protect us to do their job,” Queen said. “If they’re doing general police work, then you’ve got to pay them.” Baker favors the money being spent because of his belief in Sheriff Ed Bonner. “If Ed Bonner is running it, it must be right,” Baker said. “They are usually short-handed and working investigations you just can’t walk away from them.” The Journal’s Bruce Warren can be reached at brucew@goldcountrymedia.com, or comment online at Auburnjournal.com.