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Wednesday, September 28, 2022


A territorial audit of the Department of Public Works Solid Waste Division has uncovered gross mismanagement of overtime payments during the past two years.
Three employees were paid almost one third of the nearly $1.1 million the division spent in overtime, the audit found.
One supervisor made four times his annual pay in overtime, hoisting his $23,000 annual salary to more than $102,000. A mechanic, who in addition lived rent-free on DPW property, managed to hike his $17,500 salary to $76,582.
"Our review showed that Public Works did not have control of overtime costs," V.I. Inspector General Steven Van Beverhoudt wrote in the audit released Wednesday.
"Specifically, we found that Solid Waste employees were claiming significant amounts of overtime without documented approval (and) there was no monitoring to ensure that overtime was actually needed and worked."
Among them, the supervisor, the mechanic and one other Solid Waste employee, a litter-enforcement officer, received $328,000 in overtime, or 30 percent of the division's overtime costs for 1997 and 1998. These three employees claimed as much as 100 hours of work per week, or 14 hours per day, seven days a week, for the two-year period, the audit found.
In 1998, for example, the mechanic claimed to have worked more overtime than regular hours. He was paid for 2,080 regular hours and 3,144 overtime hours — most of which was at double time. He was paid similarly for 1997.
The mechanic also claimed 304 hours of holiday time in the two years.
Like the mechanic, both the supervisor and the litter enforcement officer claimed to have worked more overtime hours than regular hours.
The litter enforcement officer had been reassigned to assist the supervisor, in a move intended to reduce overtime costs. The reassignment, however, failed expensively, the audit found:
"The assistance only served to compound the overtime costs to Solid Waste. This occurred because the work time was not shared between the two employees, rather, both employees claimed to have worked simultaneously on both shifts, claiming almost identical hours of work."
Overtime pay inflated the enforcement officer's $20,574 salary to $82,616.
Auditors recommended that the V.I. Attorney General's office investigate the overtime situation for possible abuse. Current DPW Commissioner Harold Thompson concurred, telling auditors any potential disciplinary action would be guided by the Department of Justice.
Auditors found overtime was allowed to balloon because costs were approved in an undocumented and haphazard manner.
"Overtime work was not planned in advance, and approval was made verbally on a daily basis without regard to budgetary constraints," the audit said. "This resulted in duplicate services being provided at the supervisory level; significant, unsupervised and sometimes questionable overtime work being claimed by some employees; and excessive payments being made by Public Works."
Auditors found overtime costs were not always approved by the commissioner as they were supposed to be.
"It was stated . . . that because of the continuous problems with solid waste collections, advance overtime was not requested. Rather, overtime was approved on a daily basis by the assistant commissioner. These verbal approvals were granted without ensuring that there were sufficient funds to cover the costs," the audit said.
Thompson told auditors that supervisors have been instructed on the appropriate policies and record-keeping procedures required to document overtime costs.
Chronic employee absenteeism, which required other employees to work overtime, also inflated overtime costs. In 1997 and 1998, about 9,670 hours were lost.
One garbage collector worked only 775 hours of a possible 2,080 hours in 1997, an attendance record of 38 percent, and 874 hours in 1998, a rate of 42 percent. A second collector had attendance records of 53 percent and 38 percent for 1997 and 1998.
"Public Works officials, when questioned, were aware of the absentee problem; however, actions were not taken to discipline abusers," the audit found. Auditors recommended DPW crack down on employees who are chronically absent or abuse leave benefits.
The audit found, however, that understaffing in the Solid Waste Division contributed to overtime costs. At the time of the audit, the division employed seven drivers and 14 collectors.
"Solid Waste does not have enough employees . . . to maintain the current level of garbage collection without incurring substantial overtime costs," the audit found. Hiring another driver and two more collectors would significantly reduce overtime, it said.
In his response to the audit, Thompson said he had requested approval to fill the vacant positions.
Certain provisions of DPW employees' contracts, which stipulate employees be paid at time-and-a-half for the first eight hours of overtime worked and double-time thereafter, also caused overtime to skyrocket, the audit found.
"Government negotiators agreed to overtime provisions that were overly beneficial to union employees," it said.
In her response to the audit, Chief Labor Negotiator Karen Andrews agreed to ask labor unions for concessions in the double-time provisions of the contracts.
Overall, the V.I. Government paid $15.9 million and $17.8 million in overtime in 1997 and 1998, the audit found.

Editor's note: For the full text of the V.I. Inspector General's report go to Community/Data.

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