FALL RIVER — The Fall River Police Department has more than $3.2 million in unfunded liability in police officers’ comp time, due to years of collective bargaining agreements and past practice obligations — often during some of the city’s fiscally leanest times.
And according to a recently completed outside audit by a Boston-based police consulting firm, nearly $1.48 million accounts for time owed to police personnel that exceeds a federally mandated cap of 480 hours of accumulated comp time per officer.
Those findings were the focus of a report completed and submitted to Mayor Paul Coogan and Fall River Police Chief Jeffrey Cardoza last month. It will be presented to the City Council on June 22, and the report was authored by The Edward Davis Company, owned by former Boston police commissioner by the same name.
The audit shows that the comp time is a significant unfunded liability for the city, said Coogan.
“You can see it with the payouts and what it costs us. It would be nice to rein that in going forward, but of course that means working with the union and get it under control,” said Coogan.
How did this happen?
Comp time is governed by collective bargaining contracts.
The report found that the Fall River Police Department relies heavily on comp time, and its overuse causes staffing problems and fiscal challenges.
“There were no surprises,” said Cardoza. “This is something we’re going to have to discuss with the attorneys when it comes to bargaining and what has to be bargained and what doesn’t have to be bargained.”
The report said many police departments are faced with similar compensation challenges, compounded by decades of collective bargaining agreements.
“When salary benefits are hard to come by, cities and unions rely on working conditions and other ways to negotiate an acceptable contract,” according to the audit report.
The reports compiled comp time data from July 2019 to June 2020. The latest data for this fiscal year won’t be calculated until after June 30, 2021. That includes the compensation for a class of officers dubbed “group 7,” which allows an additional day off for every three weeks worked.
“The $3.2 million has not changed significantly over the years,” said Sahady. “I can remember years back when former City Administrator Cathy Ann Viveiros ran similar calculations in prior years and it was over $3 million.”
In its 12-page report, the company took a look at the department’s collective bargaining agreements, administration manual, minimal manning in the department in the uniform division and comp time data.
Still, some surprises
Apparently, according to the audit, not all the officers’ accrued comp time information is stored in the city’s payroll system, causing a problem with tracking accurate information on what the unfunded liabilities look like.
In a separate document regarding comp time, supplied by Sahady, some of the numbers are surprising.
Not identifying specific officers by name but rather by rank, the information shows one of three deputy chiefs with a total of 2,980 hours of total comp time and “group 7” compensation.
The value of the unfunded liability for the ranking officer is $166,389.
Another deputy chief has $171,252 in comp time on the books totaling 2,171 hours — and both are in non-compliance with the federal Fair Labor Standard Act that caps the time at 480 hours.
Excessive comp time hours are shared equally through the ranks with one police lieutenant at 2,425 comp time hours; a sergeant with 1,901 hours; and several patrolmen with over 2,500 hours banked as comp time.
What happens to unused comp time?
If comp time is not used by a police officer in the course of their career in Fall River, a good portion is paid out at retirement.
Sahady said about 19 police officers have retired in the past year with retirement buyouts totaling more than $492,511.
Consultants recommended that a cap be established of 120 to 140 total accrued comp time hours.
Regarding group 7 comp days, the consultants said the practice should be “stopped immediately, and rather than that group be allowed to accrue a day off every three weeks, to actually take the designated day off.”
The audit report also recommended a change to the civil service deputy chief positions, the second highest ranking positions in the department. The recommendation is for the positions be appointed by the police chief.