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Collins proposes slashing rising overtime costs

 By Kevin Werner, New Staff

 Hamilton councillor Chad Collins wants answers to the city’s ballooning overtime costs.

Over the last four years the city’s budgeted overtime expenses have jumped nearly 12 per cent from $4.7 million to $6.8 million. Those increases were needed to meet the jump in actual year-end overtime expenses.

 In 2010 the budgeted overtime cost was $4.7 million, but the actual overtime expense was $6.8 million.

In 2012 the budgeted cost was $5.9 million, while the actual cost was $9 million.

In 2013, the budgeted overtime was $6 million, but actually, the year-end expense was over $10.3 million. City staff is budgeting $6.8 million in overtime for 2014.

“We have seen up to a 25 per cent increase in four years,” said Collins. “Our service levels haven’t increased. I’m not comfortable (with the rising cost). It’s unsustainable.”

Mike Zegarac, corporate services general manager, said city staff will review the overtime costs at the year end.

But politicians were not satisfied. They said it was a failure of senior managers to properly put a lid on higher overtime costs.

“If we are doing a lot of overtime, are we providing more service that we need to do or should we hire more staff?” said Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie. “Some overtime is a good practice. But it depends on your service level.”

Stoney Creekcouncillor Brad Clark pointed the finger at the city’s managers for not properly addressing the issue.

“We need to get a handle on the overtime,” he said. “Why is it the same overtime week in and week out? That’s bad management. In the private sector I would never be able to do that. That’s not a good way to operate.”

Collins agreed that city staff must investigate the issue before council approves this year’s budget. He said the $720,000 boost to this year’s overtime budget is “unacceptable.” Collins was looking at reverting back to the 2011 budgeted overtime of $4.8 million. That year the actual overtime cost $7.8 million.

“If we are looking for savings, this is the area,” said Collins.

The proposed 2014 budget contains a preliminary 1.8 per cent average tax increase. It is expected the tax increase could be reduced to 1.5 per cent next week, as councillors consider further reductions. Still, councillors have to decide if they want to add service enhancements to the budget, including over $2 million in additional transit service.

A final decision on the budget isn’t expected until at least late in March.

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