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Payroll systems and productivity: How to manage your members’ money

Your system should build the confidence of all your firefighters and administrative employees – and minimize manual work

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There is no doubt that the future of fire, rescue and EMS lives in a data-driven world. This includes everything from capturing a call for assistance from the initial notification, marking key times, and highlighting the decisions made throughout the incident.

This data-driven world should also help our productivity in other areas – training, community outreach and personnel management.

One of the key factors in personnel management is the ease in which payroll is processed, from the employee to the Finance Department resulting in an on-time deposit in your firefighter’s bank account or being given a check in-hand. But searching for that right payroll company, particularly one that can handle this process for firefighters with overtime and various pay rates, can be a challenge.

So, what are some of the pitfalls, and what should we in the emergency services be looking at in an ideal payroll service? Let’s first talk pitfalls.

Most payroll has several steps, from the firefighter’s input of a timesheet to that check or deposit being available on time. These steps may include a check of the hours and the firefighter’s rate of pay by a supervisor, and forwarding this approval to their city, county or township’s Finance Department for process.

At the Finance Department, the appropriate deductions are made for taxes, pension plans or other deductions, such as a 529 plan for a dependent’s college fund. Finance also checks rates and may flag any discrepancies or errors. Sounds like a pretty simple process, but what happens when systems can’t talk to one another?

I have heard some horror stories about sour payroll systems. For example, in one instance the new payroll system couldn’t accommodate a time clock used by part-time personnel as they came to or from an incident. So, the officer in charge of the part-time payroll who had been transferring that payroll via a timesheet to the Finance Department, a task previously averaging about two hours a pay period, was now taking more than a day of their administrative time to transfer that data from the time clock to the new payroll system before it could go to Finance.

Another department had an issue with overtime, which for some outside details such as an off-duty coverage at a sporting event was at time and a half, while emergency coverage for minimum staffing limits was set at double time. The new system could not handle the difference in rates. Probably worst in these examples was that the payroll service involved had no solution for either issue. And finally, after the fire department made the switch to a new payroll system, they found it was incompatible and couldn’t upload in their Finance Department’s system.

So, what is the solution? Obviously, you want to deal with a payroll service that first and foremost has the experience in dealing with a variety of inputs that fit your department’s or your government’s complete needs.

Secondly, you need to know that they have the experience and the availability to handle these issues from the input by the employee to the sign-off by Finance without having to manually transfer any data from one system to another.

Finally, if glitches do happen, you need to trust that the payroll service will be there for you to satisfactorily solve an issue.

Without a doubt your new payroll system should be:

  • Thorough in noting and handling any special needs or potential pitfalls
  • Reliable and available before and after the transition to a new payroll system
  • Able to reduce the administrative burden on supervisors or staff, thus increasing their productivity
  • On time with the payroll checks or deposits when they are expected
  • Able to automatically handle
    • Taxes
    • Pension and Retirement Plans
    • Other deductible or automatic savings

When choosing a new payroll service, you need to have the confidence that the vendor will stand with you and not walk away when changes are needed, give you the best service, and build the confidence of all your firefighters and administrative employees.