WINCHESTER — The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office has exceeded its overtime budget for the current fiscal year by $475,000, and the county's Finance Committee wants to know why.
County Finance Director Cheryl Shiffler told the Finance Committee on Wednesday that the Sheriff’s Office budgeted $645,000 for overtime pay, but that amount was exceeded in December. As of May, the Sheriff’s Office had spent $1.12 million in overtime, she said.
“This is pretty serious when you run out of money in December,” Frederick County Treasurer Bill Orndoff told Sheriff Lenny Millholland, who was at the meeting.
Shiffler said overtime in the Sheriff's Office is up 40% up from last year. She said that while Millholland was able to make cuts to transfer money from other parts of his budget to pay for the additional overtime, there is expected to be an $80,000 shortfall for the remainder of the fiscal year. Although the committee recommended appropriating $80,000 to cover the shortfall, members wanted to know how the Sheriff's Office went so far over budget.
The Sheriff's Office has 150 employees, including uniformed personnel, administrative staff and several dispatchers who are classified as Sheriff's Office employees.
Orndoff asked Millholland if he had an understanding of what employees are typically paid in overtime. Millholland said the amount depends on what they do.
“If you are one of my deputies I don’t say that you can only make X amount of overtime, because if you are out and you make a traffic stop and you get a fugitive out of the car and you have to work over two or three hours in order to process them, arrest them and everything else, you are going to have a different amount of overtime than another guy on the shift,” Millholland said.
“I was looking for pretty much a simple answer,” Orndoff said. “If I take 160 employees … plus the amount of money that you’ve spent this year, that’s almost $6,900 per employee calculated overtime.”
Orndoff also asked if overtime was scheduled. Millholland said it was not.
“What costs us overtime is what the Drug Task force does, what my [Internet Crimes Against Children] people do, what my investigators do,” Millholland said. “That is what generates the overtime. We don’t just pick it out of the sky and say, ‘I’m going to let you work today to give you overtime.’”
The Sheriff's Office received 80,648 calls for service in 2019. Millholland said the Sheriff’s Office has received 8,000 more calls for service this year compared to the same time last year.
Finance Committee Chairwoman and Stonewall District Supervisor Judith McCann-Slaughter asked Millholland what constitutes calls for service. In previous years, some Board of Supervisors members have been critical of the Sheriff’s Office for doing security checks and responding to non-emergency calls.
Millholland told her that emergency dispatchers receive calls for service from the public and the Sheriff’s Office responds to them. Often, the Sheriff’s Office can’t assess if something is an emergency until they arrive on the scene, he said.
“I can’t help the amount of calls and the kind of calls that we get,” Millholland said.
County Attorney Roderick Williams previously told the Board of Supervisors that responding to calls is generally considered a law enforcement function and that there is a legal gray area in terms of what the Sheriff’s Office must respond to.
McCann-Slaughter wondered if Sheriff's Office employees who have worked a certain amount of hours could take time off to avoid accruing excessive overtime.
County Administrator Kris Tierney, who was also at the meeting, replied that the Sheriff’s Office still has to fill that position for the day.
Orndoff expressed concern about Sheriff's Office employees becoming accustomed to overtime pay. He said he would like to see a list of employees who are often subject to overtime, with their base salary and overtime pay. He also wondered if a policy could be developed that would limit the amount of overtime a Sheriff’s Office employee could work.
Tierney said the problem is fundamentally a budgeting issue.
“We are here because the sheriff’s budget didn’t have enough money in it to accommodate the overtime that he’s incurred,” Tierney said. “If he had anticipated that overtime and budgeted for it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. So fundamentally I think a part of this is an issue of budget knowledge, monitoring the budget, being aware of the budget, where you are in the budget. Unfortunately, I think we are set right now to have a similar issue next year. So from my perspective, we need to get a handle on what’s generating the overtime, and we need to be convinced that it’s legitimate, and I have no reason to think that it isn’t.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, the committee requested that county staff work with Millholland on determining the factors contributing to overtime and finding ways to reduce it.