Clarke County Sheriff Anthony Roper told the Clarke County Board of Supervisors yesterday that he was concerned about the impacts of increased use of compensation time in lieu of salary for sheriff’s department personnel. Roper has been encouraged by the Supervisors to provide his staff with administrative leave compensation rather than overtime pay as a method to defer salary payments. While the approach does provide a short term cash flow improvement for the county budget, Roper said that the resulting compensation liability has both personnel and budgetary implications for the sheriff’s office.
“We’re a small department so when one person is off it affects everyone” Roper said. “Anyone using leave time has to be replaced by someone else in our office.” The Clarke County Sheriff’s Department employees a staff of 17 people according to a manpower report Roper delivered to the Supervisors.
Roper described how administrative compensation leave accumulated in one pay period, but then used in a future pay period, is often compensated at a higher rate resulting in increased expense. For example, Roper said, recently a deputy sheriff retired who had accumulated a significant amount of administrative compensation leave. The accumulated leave, used by the retiring deputy during his final weeks on duty, resulted in another deputy being required to fill in for the retiring deputy’s hours.
The net effect was additional cost and manpower requirements for the sheriff’s department.
The administrative leave compensation is part of the ongoing county strategy to keep tight controls on budgets as state and local tax revenues continue to remain soft due to the financial downturn. The plan effectively allows the sheriff’s department personnel costs to be deferred to the future, in effect providing the county with a payroll loan.
Supervisor John Staelin (Millwood) acknowledged the dilemma Roper’s department was facing but no solutions were forthcoming from the Supervisors. “Our policy is not to pay overtime but rather to give compensation time instead which can build up” Staelin summarized. “The result is that personnel are scheduled less time to work which results in a need for more people.”
“That is correct” Roper replied.
However, the deferred payments, which have more than tripled since last year, must eventually be paid. In 2008 administrative compensation time for the sheriff’s department was 52 hours. By the beginning of 2010 the balance had risen to 85 hours before climbing to 320 hours by year’s end.
Part of the challenge for Roper is that administrative compensation leave is currently being carried over from one fiscal year and into another.
“One of my issues is that we cannot get the numbers down to a point where I can begin to “cap” by a “use or lose policy”” Roper said. “What happens when people are scheduled for leave is that we either have to run short on manpower or schedule other staff to cover. This, of course, amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
Sheriff Roper, mindful of the increasing liability, said that he had hoped to pay down the administrative compensation leave “ loan” using a budget surplus that appears to have evaporated.
“The county carries the compensatory time as a liability on its books. Warren County’s approach for this same problem was to buy out some of the compensatory time and reduce the liability” Roper said. “I was under the impression that we had $30 – 40K that could be used at the end of the fiscal year. But Mr. Judge tells me that there will not be any surplus this year.”
Tom Judge is the director of the Clarke County Joint Administrative Services department and provides fund management and accounting support for multiple Clarke County government groups including the sheriff’s department and the Clarke County Public School system.
The root of the administrative compensation challenge has a long history. In Virginia, the Commonwealth tells each locality how many deputies it should have and, historically, the Commonwealth covered all of the associated salaries. However, over the past 10 years, the Commonwealth has eliminated some of its law enforcement funding causing localities such as Clarke County to begin subsidizing deputy salaries. As the sheriff’s department asked for more staff, local taxes were required to shoulder the cost of deputies hired in excess of the Commonwealth’s suggested staffing levels.
Currently Clarke County funds three additional deputies. While a fourth additional deputy is funded by a grant for gang-related work, the other three deputies are used at the discretion of the sheriff’s department.
Often, the sheriff’s department has appropriate staffing to handle events in Clarke County. However, on days when there is an unexpected staff requirement, the Board of Supervisors has asked that the extra hours be compensated by providing deputies with future days off rather than overtime pay as a way of keeping spending within budget.
While Roper assured the supervisors that he was confident that his department is fully able to protect the citizens of Clarke County, he also expressed concern about the impacts of accruing substantial administrative compensation leave balances in such a small department.
“When someone takes time off, someone else has got to fill in” Roper said. “I’m not comfortable putting less staff on the road” Roper said. “We schedule people to work 160 hours during a 28 day pay period.”
There was no indication from yesterday’s meeting that the sheriff’s department will be exempted from the administrative leave cost deferment strategy anytime soon.
“We encouraged and had hoped leave could be used to offset to extra hours worked when, for example, uniformed officers were required to be present for court or provide necessary transport of inmates” said Clarke County Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville). “Over time, though small, the costs can add up.”
“If you believe the Commonwealth’s staffing suggestions – not sure I do but they are the only guideline I have – we should have plenty of staff to get the job done especially given the fact that we give the Sheriff extra personnel” said Supervisor Staelin “Thus, theoretically the Sheriff should be able to give comp time to offset those days where extra staff is needed”.
Staelin praised Sheriff Roper for his management of his available personnel resources. “I support him and believe he is doing a great job. In the last year or so he has managed to balance the hours worked over time so as to minimize the amount of additional accrued compensation time” Staelin said. “We know it can be done. His problem is working off the compensation time that was accrued in past years. Hopefully he can do this over time.”
“As I said, it is hard to know how many deputies the sheriff needs. Obviously, Sheriff Roper wants as many deputies as he can have and people feel safer when they see deputies patrolling our roads and working in our schools. However, I believe the sheriff has enough staff to do the job right and also enough so that he can use compensation time to “reimburse” his staff when they work extra hours out of necessity” Staelin said.