Thursday, August 8, 2019
The Arlington County auditor identified the causes leading to Fire Department budget-challenging overtime expenses.
The limited interaction of county systems used by the Fire Department to manage overtime “creates cumbersome and inefficient processes and impairs overtime management,” according to Auditor Chris Horton in an Aug. 1 press release.
The billing process for reimbursable expenses needs to be “updated, automated, recorded and tracked more efficiently in the county’s financial system,” he said. “While the audit did not identify any specific instances of wrongdoing because of limited oversight, we observed challenges or lack of controls in the payroll process that increase the vulnerability of the payroll systems to inaccuracy or improper use.”
“The real message here is that we need a better and updated financial system,” County Manager Mark Schwartz said.
Horton also found that staffing challenges continue to impact the Fire Department’s overtime costs. Overtime expenditures in the Fire Department ranged from $5.2 million to $6.2 million in the fiscal years 2016-2018, Horton said, noting that the use of overtime “has caused budget management challenges in recent years.”
The Fire Department has exceeded its callback overtime budget in fiscal years 2016-2018 and exceeded its overall personnel budget from FY 2016-FY 2018. While the department went under its total budgeted expenditures in FY 2018, it went over total budgeted expenditures in FY 2016 and FY 2017, Horton noted.
“At the core of the budget management issues are staffing challenges ACFD experiences through the department, including significant attrition in ACFD Operations,” Horton found. “ACFD continues to face struggles with deploying adequate staffing even with recent budget increases to fund additional recruit classes.” The department loses approximately two employees per month.
Finally, ACFD limits consecutive hours worked to 60 hours and requires a six-hour rest period before an individual can begin another shift. However, a supervisor may override the shift limitations in extreme circumstances, and the required rest periods and hours limitations need to be evaluated to ensure the health and safety of employees.
Responding to the findings, Fire Chief David Povlitz noted that “ACFD agrees with 20 recommendations and partially agrees with three more. Actions to address three recommendations are almost complete. Most of the recommendations are in the department’s short-term work plan or will be incorporated in a multi-year accreditation process.”
Povlitz noted that because “there are some similar findings between the Police and Fire Department Overtime Audits, all public safety agencies are planning process changes by utilizing a newly staff public safety time and attendance administrator position. This position will bring common processing, reporting, and compliance to the Police, Fire, Sheriff, and Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management.”