Sarasota Owes Money To More Than 140 Police Officers

SARASOTA, FL – Discrepancies in the pay raises due to Sarasota police personnel under a new union contract inadvertently shorted more than 140 officers last month and overpaid 22 others.

City officials said they are quickly working to fix the snafu, issuing the remainder of the raises in paychecks this Friday, and delicately trying to figure out how best to handle the overpayments.

“I think our staff was just hustling to get it done for their fellow employees and overlooked a couple of details,” City Manager Tom Barwin told the City Commission this week. “We now have triple-checking underway.”

The underpayments range from as low as $16 to as high as $5,700, city spokeswoman Jan Thornburg said Wednesday.

The overpayments range from as low as $9, with several at about $30, and two overpayments of $8,000 and $9,000, she said. The overpayments totaled about $32,000, Barwin said.

“I have been assured city staff is working hard to get this fixed and they are apologetic it happened,” Chief Bernadette DiPino wrote in an email to officers. “Tom Barwin was very concerned and understanding of the officers’ feelings and responses to the incorrect funds paid or withheld from the officer’s checks.”

The difficulties in processing the payments stem from the nature of the raises established in a new agreement approved between the city and the Southwest Florida Chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association after a tense impasse hearing before the City Commission last fall.

Although it was approved in November, the long-overdue contract established terms for the period from October 2014 to this September and included retroactive 3 percent raises for compensation union members earned in 2014 and 2015.

That entailed an “extremely complicated retro calculation” of lump-sum payments for those personnel for the 3 percent increases they would have received on all their time worked, overtime and on top of increases some received along with promotions, City Human Resources Director Stacie Mason explained in a memo.

City staff ran into trouble when they correctly applied the 3 percent raise for each officer’s 2014 pay, but did not compound the increase from the first year into the calculations for the second, Mason wrote.

The result is that officers received only a portion of the retroactive raises on Feb. 24, when city staff had initially planned to dole out the entire raise at once, she concluded.

City staff realized the error that day and arranged for and re-checked the appropriate increases to make “every officer whole” in their paychecks this Friday, Thornburg added.

The accidental overpayments will be more sensitive and complicated to fix.

They stemmed from the reverse problem, overcompensating the 3 percent increase for officers who received step increases to their pay scale, promotions or changes in rank, Mason said.

City staff and union leadership have met and will continue to meet to discuss how best to address the overpayments, Barwin and Dipino said.

“We are dedicated to working with those employee as not to put an undue burden on any of our employees,” Mason said. “We are dedicated to ensure that all calculations occur correctly relating to back pay and current pay and absolutely regret this error. We will work to correct this issue as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

From The Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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