Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2019

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Editorial: Paying too much

Last year the highest paid employee of Clark County government was Carl Nelson, a 30-year emergency medical services supervisor.

Nelson earned $232,791 - well above County Manager Virginia Valentine's salary of $180,692 - thanks to 2,400 hours of overtime, according to a story in Sunday's Las Vegas Sun by Mike Trask and Jeff German.

Slightly more than 15 percent of the public employees in the Las Vegas Valley made more than $100,000 last year. That number was driven in many cases by excessive overtime.

Roughly two-thirds of the public employees over the $100,000 mark in the Las Vegas Valley are firefighters, police and corrections officers. Last year the Metro Police Department spent $17.8 million in overtime pay, with the top four overtime earners pulling down a total of $346,686.

The percentage of public employees making more than $100,000 a year in the valley is three times the national average, paced by Las Vegas, where one in five public employees make that much.

With his overtime, Nelson averaged 86 hours of work a week - for 52 weeks. The overtime works out to an extra 60 weeks of pay. In other words, he was paid for more than two years of work in one year. County officials said Nelson's overtime was because he had to work while the other supervisor position was vacant.

We don't begrudge a fair wage or necessary overtime, but Nelson's pay illustrates a larger problem in local government work. Government managers have argued that overtime is cheaper than hiring more employees, but if it is, it is merely penny wise. For example:

Government in Nevada is bare bones when it comes to providing services, and an excellent case can be made for doing more, but that case is not helped when excessive amounts of overtime are being paid.

It is incumbent on government and elected leaders to be good stewards of the money they have. They can start by clamping down on overtime. It should not be an entitlement. They also need to make sure critical services are adequately staffed, and if that means calling for more money, they need to make the case for it.

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