Calgary councillor calls $30M in yearly overtime for municipal workers 'unacceptable'

·3 min read
Coun. Jeromy Farkas says the overtime bills are unacceptably high and a sign that managers aren't doing their jobs in allowing this to happen.  (CBC - image credit)
Coun. Jeromy Farkas says the overtime bills are unacceptably high and a sign that managers aren't doing their jobs in allowing this to happen. (CBC - image credit)

A Calgary city councillor says something has to be done to rein in overtime payouts to municipal employees, which have been costing the city about $30 million per year.

After a CBC News story last April revealed that one employee earned $94,818 of overtime in 2020, councillors Jeromy Farkas and Sean Chu requested more information from city administration.

"I think it's fair for Calgarians and for city council to be asking city hall management: what is going on here?" said Farkas.

The report compiled in response by the city's chief financial officer (CFO), Carla Male, says the city spent an average of $30 million annually on overtime over the past four years — equalling around $120 million in total.

The top overtime bill for a single employee in recent years was paid to someone at Calgary 911, who earned $111,000 in overtime in 2019.

'Double than typical Canadian salary'

Farkas calls the whole situation "unacceptable."

"There's some city staff members who get overtime payments that are more than double to the typical Canadian salary," he said.

The councillor says these number suggest city supervisors aren't looking after public money.

"It's bad for taxpayers, but it's also bad for the employees themselves because they're not properly staffing some areas of the city and it could potentially lead to burnout," he said.

In her report to city council, Male said overtime costs represent just one per cent of the city's total annual expenditures.

"As a percentage of the entire workforce, very few employees receive a high overtime payout. Approximately 95 per cent of employees received less than $10,000 and 98.5 per cent of employees received less than $20,000 in overtime annually," the CFO's report said.

Male also noted that while overtime expenses incurred by the Calgary Police Service averaged $13.6 million over the past four years, the force has succeeded in bringing its overtime costs down — from $13.9 million in 2017, $14.8 million in 2018 and $15.7 million in 2019, down to $10.1 million in 2020.

In order to save money, Farkas recommends the city cap overtime payouts for some departments, and hire additional employees.

"I'm never one to advocate to go on a hiring spree at the City of Calgary, but if certain employees are consistently receiving huge overtime payouts, it may actually end up saving taxpayers money for us to be able to rightsize the staffing requirements."

Male's report, too, notes that overtime costs could be reduced by reviewing staffing levels in departments where there's a consistent need for extra hours. It says overtime situations tend to be triggered by deadlines, unforeseen emergencies and the need to avoid service disruptions to the public.

Calgary already has a 'sunshine list' of sorts, but it only includes job titles and pay ranges. Farkas says more transparency is needed.

He said the city should make overtime information public every year so that Calgarians know how their tax dollars are spent. This would include disclosing the names of employees, their jobs and how much money they take home each given year, said Farkas.

"It's clear certain departments have been better to be able to reduce the amount of overtime that's paid. But with payouts north of $100,000 being made every single year to at least a few employees, there has to be some corrective measures taken and our management has to be held accountable."

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