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Top city staff paid double time during wildfires

Tucked away onto a page called Council Policies and Procedures on the City of Prince George's website is a document that explains everything and nothing about how wages and benefits are decided for the senior bureaucrats at city hall.
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Tucked away onto a page called Council Policies and Procedures on the City of Prince George's website is a document that explains everything and nothing about how wages and benefits are decided for the senior bureaucrats at city hall.

The document, Exempt Employee Compensation and Conditions of Employment, is dated June 13, 2011, the day it was adopted by Prince George city council. That would be two mayors ago - Dan Rogers - and two city managers ago - Derek Bates.

The document is only four short paragraphs long.

Here are the first two paragraphs.

"To attract, motivate and retain the high level of talent necessary to operate successfully, the City must provide its exempt employees with competitive, market-based compensation and other conditions of employment.

"The city's exempt employee compensation structure will be equitable, competitive, performance-based and consistent with market conditions. The City's exempt salaries, benefit plans, provisions for overtime, vacation entitlements and other conditions of employment will be structured top aid in attraction and retention."

That's pretty straightforward. If the city wants to get and keep good, qualified people to lead the municipal government bureaucracy, it needs to offer good pay and incentives.

It also contains confirmation, however, that overtime is awarded to most managers and supervisors overseeing unionized employees (that's what the "exempt" part means) across much of the private sector and even parts of the public sector.

Yet the 2011 document offers no explanation on the "provisions for overtime," such as whether it's paid, time off in lieu or a combination. It also doesn't explain whether the overtime is recognized as straight time, time-and-a-half or double time. It also doesn't set parameters for when and how overtime would kick in, as well as how it may be awarded in crisis situations.

For that, there is a separate document, one not found on the city's website but released by external relations manager Rob van Adrichem by email Thursday afternoon after a request from The Citizen.

The two-and-a-half page Exempt Employee Overtime document was approved by the city manager on March 11, 2015. On that date, Kathleen Soltis was the acting city manager and it was still two weeks before she would be formally appointed to her current role. It sets out overtime scenarios, guidelines and pay rates for all exempt city employees.

The exceptions are the city manager, general managers and directors (that would be the nine-member city hall management team), the fire chief and deputy fire chief aren't covered by the overtime policy.

For them, the only additional compensation they're entitled for any extra hours is two additional weeks of vacation time per year. It can't be carried forward from one year to the next, nor can it be paid out.

Sounds good.

Except there's an exception to the exception.

The final paragraph states that all exempt employees, including the exceptions, working under the Provincial Emergency Program (which oversaw the Cariboo wildfires response) "are entitled to claim overtime for all hours worked outside of their regular working hours at two times their regular hourly rate."

Furthemore, "no banking of overtime will be permitted and overtime must be claimed for pay during the pay period in which it is worked."

A city spokesperson acknowledged in an email that the 2017 remuneration figures in the Statement of Financial Information for city staff making more than $75,000 would be hard to compare to past years due to the overtime racked up because of the Cariboo wildfires and the need to take in more than 10,000 evacuees last summer.

Unfortunately, the city made no effort to separate pay for city business (paid by the City of Prince George) and pay for working at the emergency operations and reception centre (paid by the Provincial Emergency Program) to deal with the evacuees.

Here are the increases the City of Prince George's management team saw from 2016 to 2017 (rounded to the nearest thousand):

City manager - $45,000

Community services general manager - $23,000

Planning and development manager - $11,000

Administrative services general manager - $18,000

Human resources director - $22,000

Engineering and public works general manager - $23,000

Engineering and public works director - $30,000

Finance director - $17,000

External relations director - $23,000

So there's no way - yet - of separating how much of their additional 2017 pay was a salary increase and how much of it was overtime.

The Citizen filed a Freedom of Information request this week with the City of Prince George for that data.

In the meantime, however, some quick and sobering math. Soltis was hired in March 2015 at a wage of $222,000 annually. Divided by 52 weeks and 40 hours, the hourly rate for that wage is $106.73 and her double-time overtime rate would be $213.46. That's the minimum she would have received since she likely enjoyed salary raises in both 2016 and 2017.

But regardless of whether the City of Prince George or the provincial government paid the overtime, the taxpayer footed the bill. Furthermore, that hourly premium is a steep price to pay for the city manager running things (and other senior salaried city staff working with her also at double time) while a significant number of local residents were volunteering their time and energy working beneath them for free.