Chief blames unusual overtime demands for excess $200,000

Beaverton Police Chief Geoff Spalding blamed a “perfect storm” of high overtime pay demands and other staffing factors for his department spending around $200,000 more than allotted in last year’s personal services budget.

He nonetheless expressed confidence that corrective actions applied to the department will prevent such an over-expenditure from happening again.

The City Council approved a resolution on Jan. 15 approving corrective actions to the police department after it spent $204,338 more than allotted in its 2011-12 personal services budget.

The excess expenditure is less than 1 percent of the $21 million budgeted for officer benefits, expenses and salaries, including overtime pay. Overall, the department spent less than the budgeted amount in its other four categories for 2011-12.

The city’s Finance Department proposed corrective action after the city’s auditor reported an excess expenditure of $204,338 in the city’s annual fiscal report to the state of Oregon.

Spalding attributed the overage to unusual overtime obligations and a newly full payroll.

“There is no one answer to explain the reasons we were over,” Spalding said on Tuesday, noting that the 6,200 in family medical leave hours was higher than normal. “If you have to backfill for all those (while) at least eight officers are in some form of training, having all the resources available to us wasn’t necessarily the case.”

Corrective actions the Finance Department applied include the following:

  • Enhanced monthly pay and overtime reporting from finance to police department management;

  • Review of overtime policies, practices and usage at all levels so supervisors and officers are aware of trends;

  • Review of projected overtime estimates by officers in future budget cycles to be more realistic about shifts and assignments likely to require such expenses;

  • Using the supplemental budget process to recognize unanticipated grants that may cause overtime expenses during the fiscal year; and

  • Heightened awareness of the budgetary situation of the department when making discretionary assignments, approving the payout of accumulated leave or retaining retired personnel.
  • “In short, this is the new norm,” said Police Capt. Jeff Williams. “We’re taking a lot of steps to educate our managers and supervisors as to what the consequences are, and to make them more aware about (overtime hours).”

    In previous years, staff vacancies in the department provided a “cushion” to cover officers’ overtime pay for crime investigations, planned city functions and supplemental duty related to DUII patrols and events such as last year’s Occupy Portland demonstrations. Some overtime duty is funded through grant awards, which the city is also required to report to the state in the budget oversight process.

    “When we look at it historically, there’s been a built-in cushion,” said Spalding, who noted the amount of overtime pay has been reduced in his four years as police chief. “In the last nine or 10 years, the department has rarely been up to full strength. The last fiscal year, we were up to full strength, at least on paper. It caused us to have to pay all those salaries, and we lost our cushion.”

    Patrick O’Claire, the city’s finance director for 19 years, said the overspending is notable primarily for its rarity.

    “It’s pretty common for governments to have over-expenditures, but it’s not common for Beaverton,” he said, noting the last time was in fiscal year 2005-06, when an extra $20,0000 was spent for indigent defense expenses in the Municipal Courts.

    Assistant Finance Director Dave Waffle said the department has been responsive to the prescribed corrective actions.

    “We’re seeing the preliminary numbers for the 2013-14 budget, with the police department’s estimated overtime by officers,” he said. “I know they’ve been real careful about predictions.”

    Despite the scrutiny of overtime, City Councilor Betty Bode said she’s concerned the corrective action focuses too much on internal changes and doesn’t require detailed reports to the Finance Department.

    She said, “$200,000 is a lot of taxpayer money to be overbudget.”

    Councilor Marc San Soucie, however, said the prescribed action and diligence of Spalding and O’Claire are sufficient to put the matter to rest.

    “I’m extremely confident this won’t be an ongoing problem,” he said. “If it were a trend, we’d be looking at another set of issues. I consider this a one-off issue, and it doesn’t concern me.”

    Spalding said the corrective action basically codifies the direction the department wants to go based on its current staff levels and anticipated overtime demands.

    “We knew we had to make some changes,” he said. “We’re very responsive to the budget, and recognized we needed different accounting and other practices. We will address this proactively.”