Supervisor: County’s overtime expenditures excessive

Diane Sieker photo

Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said that a 26% spike in overtime expenses throughout county government in the last fiscal year was unsatisfactory and a sign that agencies need to do more to rein in costs during the board’s Aug. 27 meeting.

“This is a bad slope to be on,” Hewitt said in reaction to the Office of the Auditor-Controller’s 2018-2019 “Full Transparency Countywide Monitoring” assessment. “I want to see that number come down. Bringing down that overtime will save a lot on our bottom line. There are always instances where we need overtime. But I’d still like to see this number come down quite a bit.”

According to the report, $105.6 million was paid out to cover overtime costs throughout county government in the previous fiscal year, compared to roughly $83 million in 2017-2018.

In their report, auditor-controller staffers focused mainly on agencies that had notably higher overtime outlays, which included the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office, Probation Department, Department of Public Social Services and the Economic Development Agency.

Of all the audited agencies, the sheriff’s office had the largest percentage increase in overtime expenses from 2017-2018 to 2018-2019. The total for the last fiscal year was $61.43 million, representing a 43% jump.

Despite the appreciable increase, sheriff’s officials pointed out in a statement attached to the report that “45% 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.”

“Of course, some overtime is inevitable, necessary and non-reimbursable, in a complex, around-the-clock public safety operation,” the agency statement said. “During budget hearings, the sheriff briefed the board of supervisors about the need to increase staffing levels to reduce overtime.”

The District Attorney’s Office racked up $1.95 million in overtime costs during 2018-2019, a 25% jump from the previous fiscal year. However, the agency informed auditor-controller analysts via a letter that “60% was reimbursed by outside funding, at no cost to the county.”

“While the office saw an increase in overtime, the office continues to ensure that fiscal responsibility is still the ultimate target without compromising the primary countywide objective of public safety,” according to a D.A.’s statement.

Auditor-Controller Paul Angulo told the board of supervisors that when agencies dismiss overtime expenses because they are covered by state and federal funds, they do a disservice to the taxpayer.

“It’s all our tax money, even if it’s from a state or federal source,” Angulo said. “I take issue with their argument. We shouldn’t be forgiving because the money is coming from the feds.”

The Department of Probation, which typically incurs only modest overtime expenses, spent $2.15 million to cover its extra-hours outgo in 2018-2019, a roughly 24% jump from the previous fiscal year.

The agency responded to the finding by emphasizing its staffing shortages in administration, juvenile and field services. Officials said that a top priority is improving “our current hiring and recruitment process” to have sufficient staff in place and avoid demanding more out of current personnel.

The Economic Development Agency’s overtime expenses have steadily risen since 2016-2017, totaling $1.19 million in the most recent year, a 21% increase compared to 2017-2018, according to the auditor-controller’s office.

The bulk of the EDA’s payments were for “unplanned” maintenance, according to the agency, which is responsible for upkeep at all county facilities.

The Department of Public Social Services, which oversees county public welfare programs, saw overtime outlays edge up 11% in 2018-2019, with $6.07 million going to extra-hours expenses. In 2017-2018, costs had actually dropped.

“DPSS continues to experience high caseloads in the Medi-Cal, Cal Fresh, In-Home Supportive Services, Adult Protective Services and Children’s Services programs,” according to an agency statement. “In addition, overtime is necessary to respond timely to protective service referrals.”

The Riverside University Medical Center in Moreno Valley was saddled with $20.24 million in overtime for 2018-2019. However, that represented a 1% decline compared to the previous fiscal year.

“The hospital has done a really great job,” Angulo said. “If they can do a good job meeting their commitments (while lowering expenses), I think the other departments can make room for improvement.”