NEW ORLEANS -- Another successful Carnival season is in the books. Ensuring the smooth operation is a virtual army of police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other city workers, many of them working well beyond their normal hours.
But that overtime is anticipated, built into the city budget.
'We need overtime for events like Mardi Gras,' said Andy Kopplin, deputy mayor of the city of New Orleans. 'Every department has to contribute.'
But when Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office, his administration found that regular everyday overtime pay was through the roof, making up about a third of the $100 million deficit they inherited.
'If you actually looked at the trends, it was Mardi Gras every month of the year, all year long, every department throughout the city,' Kopplin said. 'It was abusive overtime.'
To avoid a financial meltdown, Kopplin, the chief administrative officer, started swinging the overtime axe.
Since taking office nearly two years ago, Landrieu has cut overtime from $29 million in 2009 to $17 million in 2010, down to $12 million last year.
But pockets of rampant overtime remain. According to payroll records analyzed by 4 Investigates, two city departments - Emergency Medical Services and the Youth Study Center - continue to operate year-round with employees racking up extra hours and time-and-a-half pay.
In the most extreme cases, a handful of employees were paid more in overtime than their regular salary. Four employees hit that mark in 2010 and another two employees in 2011. All but one was a counselor at the Youth Study Center, the city's juvenile detention center.
'Something is clearly wrong when that is going on and you're not in some severe emergency situation,' said Janet Howard, president of the Bureau of Governmental Research.
No emergency, just daily city business. Howard said the numbers point to poor management.
'You don't want fatigued people. And again, the numbers you have showed there are two departments with severe problems: the Youth Study Center and the EMS. Those are just departments that are crying for restructuring,' Howard said.
Kopplin said the city is addressing the unbalanced staffing that leads to excessive overtime. He said the overtime at EMS is being alleviated by hiring dozens of part-time workers.
And the Youth Study Center?
'We're trying to manage that much more aggressively,' Kopplin said. 'Again, it's not just that someone is making too much of their salaries. We don't want people to be too tired to do their jobs effectively.'
Eyewitness News contacted the Youth Study Center and EMS directly, but those agency deferred all comments to City Hall.
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