For every five hours taxpayers pay Montgomery County employees, those employees actually work only about four, according to a study released Tuesday.
And for every 11 regular hours logged by county workers, taxpayers pay them, on average, one hour of overtime.
Montgomery County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight studied employee work hours and leave, and found that on average, county executive branch employees are available to work only 81 percent of the time they could work in a year. For the remaining 19 percent, they are on leave.
Councilman Philip M. Andrews said the amount of leave taken by employees is concerning.
Each employee accrues 298 to 441 hours of paid leave a year, depending on how long they have been with the county. Those do not include extra leave available through the Family and Medical Leave Act, disability leave, parental leave, administrative leave, compensatory leave, holiday leave, military leave, religious leave and leave without pay.
Montgomery provides more leave to new employees compared to other local jurisdictions, but as years of service increase, it comes into line with other jurisdictions, the report noted.
Yet, leave abuse in Montgomery is infrequent, according to the report, suggesting that most of the leave taken is earned or authorized.
The report’s authors found that in fiscal year 2012, only 25 employees were reprimanded in writing for abusing leave. Those who abuse leave tend to abuse sick leave and FMLA, according to the report.
The report tracked leave for about 6,800 employees who worked full time with the county’s executive branch between January 2011 and July 2012.
In a given year, those full-time executive branch employees take about 2.7 million hours of leave, of which their accrued leave accounts for the lion’s share, according to the report.
Those same employees also logged about one million hours of overtime, at an estimated cost to the county of more than $63.2 million.
The Office of Legislative Oversight noted in its opening line of the report the relationship between the total hours an employee works and overtime, as well as the total number of employees the county needs to provide services to residents.
On average, employees are working 11 regular hours on the job for every hour of overtime.
But for the county Fire and Rescue Service, employees are working only six regular hours for every hour of overtime and employees of the Department of Transportation are only working eight regular hours.
Researchers also found that some county employees combine leave and overtime, earning both in the same pay period. For example, employees could schedule leave one week and still work overtime in the same pay period.
For those employees who worked less than half their regular hours in the same pay period, the county paid about 132,000 hours of overtime between January 2011 and June 2012.
Some employees worked no regular hours in a pay period yet earned overtime, accounting for 5,000 overtime hours paid.
About 84 percent of county workers earn overtime.
Researchers found that about 260 employees earned more than 1,000 hours of overtime from January 2011 to June 2012.
Most of the county’s overtime is paid to employees in the county’s general employees union, United Food and Commercial Workers/Municipal and County Government Employees Organization Local 1994.
However, the workers taking the most leave and earning the most overtime work for the county’s Fire and Rescue Service, represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1664.
Andrews said the report raises questions about proposed pay increases for MCGEO and IAFF employees starting in fiscal year 2014, pay increases he has criticized.
The County Council requested that OLO study work hours and leave in part to better understand how leave policies affect costs.
New three-year contracts agreed to with the unions would provide some MCGEO employees as much as 13.5 percent pay raises in two years, and some IAFF employees with 19.5 percent increases in the same period, said Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg.
How much leave county employees take is a concern, but the county also needs to understand how much additional costs in overtime will be associated with these pay increases, he said.
OLO recommended the county have its Office of Human Resources manage leave more and have the executive branch report biannually to the council on leave and attendance.
The office also recommended the council consider if there is a reasonable number of regular hours that employees should work before they are eligible to work overtime.
While the 196-page report is exhaustive, its authors recommended the county hire a consultant to do an even deeper study of leave and absences.