By Gary Nelson
County commissioners on the budget committee have requested the county's finance director to examine comp time (compensatory time) figures and the personnel policy and come back to the committee with a recommendation for the future of the county's comp time policy.
Comp time is when a county employee works more than 40 hours per week and earns extra hours. For each hour over 40, an employee earns 1.5 hours. Those extra hours can then be taken off with pay, or paid out to the employee.
Governmental bodies are allowed to let employees build up comp time hours past a one-week period, where private enterprise can not.
Harry Sabine, budget committee chairperson and 1st District commissioner, said, "I don't think its a good idea to have all the comp time we do have built up in this county. It varies by department. Obviously, we have no power to tell any elected official what to do or not do. But, we can set a policy to tell the world this is what we will do for the rest of the departments in the county. We can go through the personnel policy to see how we can change it to make this more manageable."
"We've been talking about this for years. One department is huge and has a lot built up, but most of the others are in line," Mike Harvel, 7th District commissioner, said.
Cumberland County Finance Director Nathan Brock said up to 240 hours per employee per year is allowable by federal law. Emergency department employees may be allowed up to 480.
"If you have one employee quit, then you can't hire until that time is spent out. It can hurt a department. In an election year, you can kill the next man in office by leaving him hanging with a bunch of comp time. I don't know the options we've got, but this needs to be worked on," Harvel said.
"A good department head will see that it's worked out so we don't have any built up like this," Sabine said.
"If it's an elected official and they go over, there's not anything we can do," Harvel said.
Johnny Presley, 3rd District commissioner, asked, "How much comp time have we got built up? It's close to a half million dollars in comp time, isn't it?"
"Close to it," Brock said.
"But if you work somebody over (time), you have to pay them," Harvel said. "What can you do?"
"The law says you have to pay them with comp time or with money ... The county can set the example, though. I would suggest to start at home first. Reduce the allowed amount of comp time by some amount per department. Let's say a couple weeks of work, or 100 hours and set that as an example for each of these officials. The way it is now, one official can run up comp time and leave office and the new administration takes over and has to keep those hours ... The county commission should set a limit," Brock said.
"In our policy, do we make people take comp time before their vacation?" 4th District Commissioner Allen Foster asked.
"That is not addressed in the policy. I feel it needs to be. That's how I prefer to run my department," Brock said.
"What's the will of the committee? I will work with Nathan and look at the policy and bring back a recommendation," Sabine said.
"Well, we need to be fair. I don't want to punish one department over another," Harvel said. "Can we set a limit of when and the amount a department can have to run it off?"
"The county can as a commission. If the county put pressure on them through the budget, say if your comp time goes up by a certain amount, then you have to decrease another line item by that amount. Maybe give some financial incentive if their budget is reduced by an amount of comp time. You can do it, but you have to be creative," Brock said.
"Is it legal?" 9th District Commissioner John Kinnunen asked.
Brock said yes.
Nancy Hyder, 2nd District commissioner, made a motion to have Sabine and Brock investigate the comp time situation and to come back to the committee with a recommendation.
Harvel supported the motion and it was unanimously approved.
Sabine and Brock will look at the comp time hours, the county policy and come back to the committee with a recommendation in the near future.
Jeff Brown, 8th District commissioner, did not attend the meeting.