firemen

Assistant Fire Chief Sam Thornton speaks to city leaders in support of firemen being allowed to accrue compensatory time for overtime rather than being paid as they earn it, while Chief Al West stands by in support.

At the Aug. 19 Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, city leaders voted in support of firemen continuing to receive compensatory (comp) time for overtime work.

A large number of firemen attended the meeting to show support for the continuation of comp time. In updating the city’s personnel policies, Human Resource Director John Grubbs had recommended at the Aug. 5 meeting of the BOMA that the city pay for the overtime work as it is incurred.

Firemen have been able to accrue comp time up to 480 hours based on federal guidelines for public servants. Comp time is time off in lieu of monetary or cash compensation for overtime. Firemen earn one and one half hours for each hour of overtime they work. The fire department is the only department that accrues comp time.

City Financial Director Doug Yoeckel explained that each year at budget and audit time he has to be aware of the city’s financial responsibility for the accrued overtime. He said last year, the city’s responsibility at the end of June 30 was approximately $67,000 in accrued overtime. The money is not placed in a restricted account and if the overtime is paid as earned, the city would have to find a money source for this fiscal year because it is not included in the current budget.

According to Yoeckel, some cities limit the amount of time that can be accrued. In addition, if an employee with accrued comp time separates from the city, that employee would be written a check for the comp time based on the employee’s current hourly rate.

Fire Chief Al West spoke in support of firemen being able to accrue comp time because of the nature of their jobs and the 24-hour shifts they work. According to West, he has earned comp time since he joined the fire department in 1978. He added that the firemen hired last year would have dipped into their vacation time, if they needed a day off for personal or family responsibilities, if they hadn’t accrued the comp time, saying that only two employees have topped out at the federal mandated cap of 480 hours of accrued comp time.

West said, “I’m glad they allowed them to keep it due to the fact it allows the newer employees an opportunity to spend more time with their family throughout the first year of employment in a very high stress job."

The city has to correct one error of the comp time earned, which involves vacation time, sick leave time and holiday time. According to federal guidelines, hours not used cannot be used as comp time and are not required to be paid, if an employee chooses to separate from the city.

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