County looks at overtime pay for responders

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County could save money by changing the way it pays emergency responders and  bringing its policy in line with other localities.

The Board of Supervisors heard during a work session Tuesday from Human Resources Manager Jodi Saffelle and Richard Mabie, chief of the Department of Fire and Rescue Services, about proposed changes in the way the county pays its emergency responders.

Warren County’s neighbors have already switched their overtime policies for emergency responders, Saffelle said. The county can expect to save about $20,000 a year by changing its overtime policy for these workers.

The county’s current policy calls for responders to work 50 hours per week and earn salaries based on 2,600 hours annually. The county calculates overtime based on 200 hours in a 28-day cycle. Hours that exceed 200 in the cycle are earned at time plus one-half. The policy on compensatory time registers overtime up to 80 hours into a bank with overage paid to the employee.

The Fair Labor Standards Act states that the county may use 212 as a base for a 28-day cycle rather than 200 hours in the current policy.

County officials proposed that supervisors change the base hours in a 28-day cycle from 200 to 212. They also proposed that supervisors change the personnel policies to stop the accrual of compensatory time for fire and rescue employees only.

The proposed base change would increase the total number of annual hours to 2,756. The base salary increases in order to leave the hourly rate unchanged. The county would not need to pay overtime until the hours worked exceed 212. The base leave accrual rate increases to 10.6. The contribution to the Virginia Retirement System also increases.

Any time off still counts as hours worked for overtime purposes for fire and rescue employees, according to the proposed changes.

County Administrator Doug Stanley pointed out the difference between scheduled and unscheduled overtime – the latter coming from instances when an employee stays on until released.

A situation with accrued overtime can occur that ends up costing the county more money, Saffelle explained. An employee can carry accrued time until he or she retires and the county must pay that person at the current rate, Saffelle said. The employee might have earned the time at a lower rate, she added.

Under the proposed change in the threshold, an employee would receive regular pay for the 12 hours formerly considered overtime and lose the half-time, Stanley explained. However, the employee would gain earnings in his or her contribution to retirement savings, Stanley said.

“So there’s a trade off for them,” Stanley said.

Fork District Supervisor Archie Fox asked if these proposed changes could push some employees to seek jobs in other localities. County staff discussed the proposals with a leader of the local fire and rescue workers’ union and the representative didn’t indicate any opposition to the changes, Saffelle said.

County officials plan to meet with fire and rescue employees to explain the proposed changes and to answer any questions. Staff would prepare a draft policy changes for the board’s approval in the near future.