One in five Clark County employee positions were lost over the past four years because of the downturn in the economy, according to an annual compensation report released by county management Thursday. The 22 percent vacancy rate is a result of a hiring freeze, the elimination of vacant positions and multiple rounds of downsizing throughout different departments.
The report also points to a $43 million decrease in county employee wages over the past two years .
Overtime pay decreased by $7 million over the two years. The Fire Department's overtime pay dropped from $17.4 million in 2009 to $10.5 million in 2011. Last year, overtime was 15 percent of a firefighter's wages. That is down from 24 percent in 2009. The department also saw a 57,000-hour decrease in sick leave compared with 2009 .
Firefighters' sick leave can be costly because tight staffing often requires those who fill in for absent co-workers to be paid overtime and usually for 24 hours. Overtime helped push the average wage of firefighters in 2010 to $130,000 and of battalion chiefs to $180,000. County officials are in contract negotiations with the firefighters union.
While firefighters are calling in sick less, other departments are seeing a significant increase in sick leave usage.
County Manager Don Burnette said he is concerned about that increase and wants to revisit the county's policy.
"We've been very effective in reducing our expenditures to deal with the recession, and reducing our wages is a big part of that. Unfortunately, it comes with a pretty significant price in that we're a much smaller organization today than we were a couple of years ago."
Members of the Service Employees International Union saw an 11 percent increase in sick leave use from 2009 to 2011, according to the report. Pay groups included contract managers, deputy sheriff, managers, district attorney investigators, prosecutors, nonunion employees and park police, among others.
As the workload increases, it is placing an increasing and stressful demand on employees, Burnette said.
"I'm very satisfied with changes in policies and processes in the Fire Department to reduce sick leave and ultimately reduce our overtime expenditures. I'm beginning to grow a little concerned about sick leave elsewhere in the organization."
Nick DiArchangel, SEIU spokesman, said he didn't think it was fair to speculate that employees were calling in sick because they were stressed and pointed to health district statistics that showed a spike in flu around the same time county data show people calling in sick.
"The fact that they're still able to keep local government working and provide services to the community is a testament to how hard our members work and how hard the employees work for the community," DiArchangel said.
The report showed little change in how much the county spends on longevity pay, originally used as a recruitment tool to attract employees and reward them annually for their years of service after hitting an eight-year benchmark.
For 2009 to 2011, the county spent about $25 million a year on longevity pay, which some county officials have characterized as "archaic" because the county isn't hiring. In recent negotiations, some unions have agreed to eliminate longevity pay for new hires. County commissioners have expressed appreciation for unions that did so.
But it has been a point of contention in other negotiations, particularly with SEIU, which was able to save longevity pay for new hires after six bargaining sessions that ended in mediation. The parties struck a two-year deal expected to save the county about $20.4 million.
The analysis does not include employees from University Medical Center, Clark County Water Reclamation District, the Regional Flood Control District, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada or the Metropolitan Police Department.
A spreadsheet detailing wages and benefits for county employees was released with the report. Four of the 10 highest paid salaries belonged to firefighters. The analysis calculates total pay based on base pay, other, overtime, callback pay and benefits.
Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-455-4519.