Audit: Riverside County’s OT costs continue to climb

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RIVERSIDE (CNS) – Multiple agencies drove up Riverside County’s overall overtime expenses nearly 10% in the last fiscal year, with the sheriff’s department leading the pack, according to a report submitted to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, Aug. 25.
The Office of the Auditor-Controller recently completed its 2019-20 fiscal year “Full Transparency Countywide Overtime Monitoring” assessment, and according to the narrative, a total $116 million was paid out to cover OT costs throughout county government, compared to $105.6 million in the previous fiscal year.
“This puts a spotlight on some things,” Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said. “(Overtime costs) can have a big effect. We need to run very efficiently. I know COVID has put a lot of pressure on departments. But we need a longer discussion about overtime down the road.”
Auditors focused mainly on agencies that had notably higher OT outlays, including the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Fire Department, Probation Department, Department of Public Social Services, Department of Information Technology and the Department of Public Health.
Of all the audited agencies, the sheriff’s office had the largest dollar amount in overtime expenses — $68.5 million, representing an 11.6% increase from 2018-19.
Despite the upswing, sheriffs officials pointed out in a statement attached to the report that “45 percent of sheriff’s overtime spending last year was actually reimbursed via grants, court security funding, special event charges and payments from cities that contract with the department for law enforcement.”
In percentage terms, the Department of Public Health documented the greatest increase in OT at 833%. According to the audit, public health staff logged $1.5 million in extra hours, compared to $161,249 in the previous fiscal year.
The sharp upward spike was directly attributed to COVID-19 “mitigation activities … conducted on a 7-day-a-week schedule” beginning in the last quarter of 2019-20.
Figures showed that the Fire Department racked up $2.38 million in OT costs, roughly 5% over the previous fiscal year. According to the agency, there was “high turnover” in the Emergency Command Center, resulting in vacancies and the need for existing staff to fill slots, incurring overtime.
The Department of Probation spent $2.69 million to cover its extra-hours spending in 2019-20, a roughly 25% jump from the prior fiscal year, data showed.
The agency responded to the finding by emphasizing its staffing shortages in administration, juvenile and field services. Officials additionally wrote that because of COVID-19, “there has been an increased need for client wellness checks and community support efforts,” keeping officers on the clock longer.
The Department of Public Social Services, which oversees county welfare programs, saw OT outlays leap 33% in 2019-20, with $8.5 million going to extra-hours expenses.
The agency stated that demand for a half-dozen programs “increased significantly as a result of COVID-19,” and personnel were scrambling to keep up, resulting in more OT commitments.
The Department of Information Technology accrued $1.13 million in extra-time costs — an increase of 44% compared to a year earlier, auditors said.
IT administrators blamed a loss of 19 positions and ongoing “spikes in service demands” for the unexpected surge in OT requirements.
The District Attorney’s Office actually pared down its overtime outlays by about 3%, according to the audit, which indicated a total $1.9 million was spent by the office in 2019-20.
Staff told the Office of the Auditor-Controller that OT is only granted “when emergency situations arise.”
“The office continues to ensure that fiscal responsibility is still the ultimate target without compromising the primary countywide objective of public safety,” according to the DA’s office.