Las Vegas Sun

August 25, 2019

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Taxpayers save, thanks to overtime crackdown

Clark County courts tighten belts by hundreds of thousands of dollars

Clark County’s court system has taken steps to reduce the cost of publicly paid overtime by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Court Executive Officer Chuck Short said the measures, implemented in Justice Court in May, are expected to trim the lower court’s $1.1 million overtime budget by 21.5 percent, saving taxpayers roughly $236,000 by the time this fiscal year ends in June.

Similar measures are being put in place for employees who work for the court system at the county clerk’s office to reduce $1.5 million in budgeted overtime by as much as $400,000, Short said.

Reducing the $442,000 overtime budget in District Court, Short said, has been more difficult because most of the overtime there is authorized to ensure that criminal and civil jury trials are conducted in a timely fashion.

“We would have to ask judges to go to a 40-hour workweek and not go late on jury trials,” Short said. “That’s not realistic.”

Short, who oversees 800 employees and combined annual budgets of more than $70 million, credited a series of Sun stories last year on rising overtime costs among local municipalities for triggering his overtime review.

“Our management team felt that we needed to do a better job of understanding how overtime was benefiting the taxpayers,” Short said. “If we couldn’t understand the relationship between an hour of overtime and the value of that overtime, then that hour shouldn’t be authorized.”

Short, who plans to retire this year, is one of the few public agency executives in Southern Nevada who has been able to show results in reducing overtime over the past year.

The Sun reported in February that, largely because of hefty amounts of overtime, 2,920 (15.7 percent) of the valley’s 18,628 full-time public employees earned more than $100,000 in 2006. That was more than twice the estimated $47,320 median household income in the Las Vegas area.

Local government overtime jumped 15 percent, from $79.6 million in fiscal 2006 to $91.5 million in fiscal 2007, which ended June 30, records show.

Since 2001, according to figures provided by municipalities, local governments have spent more than $375 million on overtime, something management experts say suggests that officials are not putting enough effort into filling vacant positions and creating new ones to keep pace with growth.

Short said he made that argument when he asked the county for 23 new positions for Justice Court last year to keep up with the rapidly growing case load.

“We argued it didn’t make sense to process normal work with an hour and a half of labor (overtime) when you can do the same thing for an hour with a new position,” he said.

The county, however, gave Short only seven new Justice Court positions, which he filled in November.

Those positions help reduce overtime, Short said. The new cost-cutting measures, such as capping overtime at five hours a week for each employee and requiring more scrutiny of overtime by supervisors, also are saving taxpayers money.

“We’re putting in measures to create greater accountability and making sure there’s greater productivity in the 40-hour workweek, he said. “We don’t want people slacking off in the regular workweek to get overtime.”

Overall, the county also has tried to reduce overtime by more carefully monitoring its use. From fiscal 2006 to fiscal 2007, its overtime costs increased by less than 5 percent, from $28.2 million to $29.5 million, according to figures the county provided the Sun last year. Since fiscal 2002, however, county overtime has climbed by 151 percent.

The rise in overtime has been more dramatic at other local municipalities.

Since 2001, overtime has skyrocketed by 523 percent in Las Vegas and by 286 percent in North Las Vegas.

The Sun reported last year that much of the overtime in those cities and the county has been paid to firefighters, police officers and jail officials.

Of the 632 county firefighters, 410 earned more than $100,000 in 2006, with 21 of them making more than the then-$180,692 salary of County Manager Virginia Valentine.

Trimming overtime in the county court system, Short said, has met with resistance from employees accustomed to it.

“We’re finding that we’re dealing with a culture of entitlement,” he said. “Over time, it becomes part of someone’s annual income. They expect to keep getting it.”

But, Short added: “You have to be persistent. You have to be disciplined in telling whoever comes to you that you need to do it this way.”

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