6 Investigates

Jun 16, 2014 8:00 PM by Andrew Ellison - aellison@kristv.com

6 Investigates: City Employees Raking in Mountains of Overtime Pay

CORPUS CHRISTI - The City of Corpus Christi employs almost 3,600 people and your tax dollars pay their salaries and benefits.

It is easy to look up public salaries, online. There are plenty of databases that publish the information.

But that information is only half the story. The truth is, you're paying these public servants more than you realize.

Last year, a background investigator with the Corpus Christi Police Department, with a salary of $32,760, actually made over $111,000.

A Park Maintenance employee with a salary of $40,381, actually made $109,074. That's nearly triple his base salary.

There are dozens of city employees with numbers like these, making way above what would be reported on your usual public salary list.

You're probably asking, "How?"

They retired.

And when they did, they were paid for every sick day they never took, every vacation they passed up.

It's called "drag-up pay."

And while many private companies give their employees something similar, the numbers are usually not this high.

Assistant City Manager Wes Pierson, says drag up pay like this is being phased out after a policy change in the late 90's.

"I would not be eligible for that large of a drag-up because there are limits on that now," he says.

But drag-up pay is just one explanation for the differences in the numbers.

The truth is most of these above base pay wages come from overtime.

Overall, the city paid out nearly $9.6 million in overtime during Fiscal Year 2012-2013.

The Corpus Christi Police Department is the highest spender, at $2.6 million.

But Chief Floyd Simpson, like many department heads throughout the city, will tell you the work must get done despite a shortage of workers.

And when something big like a bomb scare comes up, resources are usually shifted to that event, and officers who are off, have to come in.

"As that event is transpiring, ok, there's still disturbance calls coming in. There's still drunks to pick up. The world continues to go," Chief Simpson says.

Some of that police overtime is paid for with your federal tax dollars. That money comes through national initiatives like "Click-it or Ticket".

And retirement isn't always a permanent situation. That background investigator who retired and walked away with almost $80,000 in drag-up pay?

CCPD rehired him, four months later.

But let's move beyond the police department and take a look at some high numbers that don't have to do with cops.

Like a Wastewater Treatment Technician who made over $41,000 in overtime last year. He almost doubled his salary.

Or a Heavy Equipment Mechanic with a $35,000 annual base rate who topped $72,000.

How about a Water Distribution Technician who made nearly $32,000 in overtime.

Many of you at home may be thinking that these jobs seem like a sweet deal.

"Well, if it's a sweet deal, it's because somebody is earning it. I mean, its not ... they're working. This is an hourly guy that's spending more time at work than he is with his family," Pierson says.

Pierson, who is the Assistant City Manager over Business and Support Services, says the city faces the same staffing challenges as any other business.

"Yeah, that is a lot of overtime and I think it's reflective of some of the employment realities that we're looking at," he added.

He says higher-paying jobs in the Eagle Ford Shale are enticing wastewater technicians and heavy equipment mechanics, away.

"They are at a premium right now because of the Eagle Ford Shale. So, we can't pay some of these folks enough to stay with the city, they leave for other opportunities," Pierson says.

And when there's an employee shortage, the ones remaining have to pick up the slack, and there's plenty of slack to pick up.

"City work is difficult work, because we have to be 100 percent right 100 percent of the time," Pierson says.

And while city officials admit some of these overtime numbers are extremely high, when it comes down to it, the city is still coming in under budget.

Our analysis of the city's 2012-2013 payroll report shows workers earned about $143.3 million in gross wages, about $8 million under the city's FY2012-2013 payroll budget of $151.1 million.

"If we remain within our budget, and we're getting the work done, I mean it is what it is," Pierson says.

Investigative note:

6-Investigates spent about a month verifying city salaries through a combination of Public Information Act requests, off-camera interviews, emails with staff and data mining.

We've included a copy of the salary report used as this basis of this story: City Salaries.pdf

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