Livingston struggling with staff overtime issues

The Livingston Parish Council will consider again granting its clerk staff lump-sum payouts Thursday for excess overtime hours they have accrued.

The council deferred the issue at its Nov. 25 meeting after Parish President Layton Ricks said the payments would violate parish law.

Under a pair of ordinances adopted in 2007, parish employees may not accumulate more than 160 compensatory, or comp, hours.

Employees earn 1.5 hours of comp time for every hour above 40 worked each week.

Comp hours can be taken as paid leave or paid out upon termination but cannot exceed 160 hours.

Records show 23 parish employees across six departments cumulatively have run up 1,800 hours beyond the limit set by parish ordinances.

Parish Council Clerk Lisa Frederick and her two staff members have some of the highest comp hour totals — 973 hours combined, or nearly 500 above the limit.

Overall, the parish is carrying roughly $150,000 worth of unpaid overtime on its books, records show.

Paying down the excess across all departments would cost the parish nearly $35,000, with $10,777 of that going to the three clerk’s office employees alone.

The 2007 ordinances were supposed to prevent the parish from carrying that kind of financial liability.

It cost the parish roughly $107,000 to pay down excess comp hours that year, after grass-cutters and mechanics accrued 500 and 700 hours of unpaid time, respectively, according to council minutes from April through July 2007.

The overtime had become so problematic that about 20 percent of the Department of Public Works employees took paid leave at the same time to reduce their accrued hours, then-Parish President Mike Grimmer has said.

The unpaid hours also exceeded limits imposed by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibits unpaid overtime for seasonal laborers and emergency responders above 480 hours and for all other workers above 240 hours.

The parish’s excess hours could trigger an audit finding, Finance Director Jennifer Meyers said.

However, she said, paying down the excess would not solve the problem because the employees who carry that many comp hours tend to be “habitual accruers.”

She said the nature of their schedules and work loads causes them to continually accrue comp time.

“That is why I am against only paying out three individuals, and only the amounts over 160, as we will be right back in the same situation the very next paycheck,” Meyers said.

In arguing for a waiver of the parish ordinances on Nov. 25, Frederick said the Council Clerk’s Office is the only department with forced overtime.

Frederick and her staff typically work four 10-hour days Monday through Thursday, plus evenings for council and committee meetings.

“So what I’ve had to do to curtail hours is rotate who comes in late, who leaves early, who takes days off when we can afford for them to be gone,” Frederick said.

The Department of Public Works, which has the most employees accruing comp time, has adopted similar measures, Director Sam Digirolamo said.

Public Works is “kind of the shoulder of the parish,” Digirolamo said. “We get called out on everything. It just adds up.”

Ricks said forcing employees to take leave has created issues in some departments due to staffing levels.

The parish probably could use another 8-10 employees in Public Works and one or two more each in Finance and the parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Ricks said. However, the budget won’t allow for the additions right now.

In the meantime, the department heads are working to reduce comp hours as best they can, Ricks said, adding, “There’s no real timeline they have to do it, but they’re starting to get them down.”