LIVINGSTON — A year after Livingston Parish officials pledged to get employee compensatory time under control, the parish is still carrying more hours on its books than allowed by parish codes and, in some cases, federal law.
In fact, the numbers today are virtually identical to those from 12 months ago, and some employees have consistently accrued more hours, rather than reducing their balances.
Parish officials insist they are working on a solution, but records indicate they aren’t even following their own rules for dealing with the problem. Officials said those rules are simply unworkable.
Parish employees earn 1.5 hours of compensatory, or comp, time for every hour above 40 worked each week, but parish law prohibits employees from having more than 160 comp hours accrued at any one time.
Payroll records show 19 employees exceeded that limit in 2014, running up a cumulative 1,890 comp hours — worth more than $32,500 — beyond what parish law allows.
Some employees also have comp time balances that exceed the limits set by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Under the act, seasonal and emergency response workers are prohibited from carrying more than 480 comp hours at any time, while all other public employees are limited to 240.
The situation remains largely unchanged from December 2013, when parish officials said they were working to get the problem under control.
“Those numbers don’t really reflect what we’ve been doing,” Parish President Layton Ricks said Friday.
Ricks said seven of the 23 employees who had excess comp time balances in 2013 have “fallen off” the list for 2014, while another five or so should be able to reduce their hours below the 160-hour limit by the end of December.
However, records show that more than half — 10 of 16 — of the employees who exceeded the limit both years actually gained comp hours over the past year. And four employees who had not been on the list last year are now on this year’s list. Among them is a jail nurse hired in May who has already racked up 217 comp hours.
The employee with the highest comp time balance for 2014 is Desiree Green, who is stretched thin between her office duties in the Planning Department as well as handling day-to-day operations at the parish’s animal shelter. Green had accrued 357 comp hours in early December 2013; she now carries 487.
Other departments with high balances include Public Works, where 11 of the 75 employees made the excess-hours list both years, and the council clerk’s office, where all three employees made the list both years.
The Parish Council last year debated paying down the clerk staff’s excess hours with lump-sum checks totaling more than $10,000. Ricks nixed the idea, however, saying the payments would be unfair to other departments and would violate parish law.
Under parish codes, comp hours can be taken as paid leave or paid out upon termination, but there is no provision that allows the parish to pay out comp hours before an employee stops working for the parish.
The law also requires employees with excess comp time to use their hours immediately, taking off work until their balance falls below 160. But records show that none of the 19 employees carrying excess hours this year have been required to follow that law. Ricks said the parish government is too understaffed for that to be practicable.
“It looks great on paper, but you can’t always adhere to the black and white every day,” Ricks said. “You have to use a little common sense.”
In departments like Public Works, sending home those employees with too much accrued comp time would create a workload too great for the remaining workers to bear, he said.
Council Chairman Ricky Goff said the same is true of the council clerk’s office. In advance of Thursday’s council meeting, Goff had floated the idea of paying down some of the excess comp hours — this time across all departments — but he instead decided to require the clerks to take off four hours each per week.
“We’ve got to do what we can to accommodate the parish’s needs while also having the employees get their hours back in line,” Goff said.
Although the parish ordinances are unworkable at this point, Goff said, changing the law is not the answer.
“I think it’s a good policy for the parish, a good tool for us to control expenditures under normal circumstances,” he said. “It was just allowed to get out of hand, and now we have to get it back in hand.”
Ricks said parish employees are now required to take comp time before using their vacation hours — a provision of parish law that officials were not enforcing before this year. The change has prompted pushback among some employees who would have preferred to take the higher comp-time payouts at retirement or store up extra leave in case of a serious illness, he said.
Ricks predicted that administration employees’ comp balances would be significantly reduced by June but did not give any details on how that would be accomplished.
Goff said he will be monitoring the employees’ comp balances on a monthly basis.
“I’m hoping that they know that this is being looked at and will pay more attention to it as well,” he said.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.