Texas city reportedly overpaid its FFs, police officers for a decade
After overpaying firefighters $236,288, Fort Worth and the union have been clashing over how to repay the funds, and the dispute will go to an arbitrator
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
FORT WORTH, Texas — Fort Worth has overpaid some of its firefighters and police officers over the past decade.
The city made arrangements with the police officers union to recover the money it overpaid employees. With the fire department, the city has been deducting $50 from paychecks, a move that the union is fighting, arguing it should wait until a new payroll system is in place.
The city overpaid its firefighters by $236,288.
The extra payments to firefighters were caused by errors reporting overtime, incentive pay, and a software glitch that didn't account for payroll changes resulting from a 2014 collective bargaining agreement.
Roughly 500 firefighters were affected. The city still needs to collect $192,222 from current and former employees.
Former employees who owe $200 or less will not be asked to repay the city, according to a December 2021 report. The city reasoned that going after those collections would cost more than they're worth.
The city did not specify how it would collect from former firefighters who owe more than $200, but union president Michael Glynn said he believed the city would send letters asking for repayment.
"A lot of retiring firefighters reimbursed the city before leaving, so I don't think that number is a lot," he said.
In September 2021, the City Council approved spending $2.1 million to buy software and hire temporary staff to fix the police and fire payroll system to avoid the extra payments.
The city decided to start recouping the money from firefighters in January reasoning that the system had been "stabilized."
But the firefighters union, arguing that the system is still flawed, filed a grievance to stop the repayments.
Gylnn said some of his members are still getting "off-cycle checks" meaning the city is paying them outside of the normal schedule to account for errors.
However, the city reported in December it had a clearer sense of how much was owed and who owed it. That's why it began taking $50 out of individual firefighters' paychecks in January.
An arbitrator will settle the dispute at the end of March.
Glynn is pushing the city to establish individual repayment plans for firefighters who owe money.
That's similar to a plan negotiated by Fort Worth's police officers union after its members faced similar problems with over-payments, according to police union president Manny Ramirez.
Some officers would get misclassified by the payroll system, which resulted in them getting a higher hourly rate.
"Finally when the city found the discrepancy, you can imagine the costs had added up," Ramirez said.
Fort Worth police offers also run into problems because when they're forced to fill out their timesheets two weeks in advance, Ramirez said. This makes it hard to make adjustments under the police department's command structure leading to inaccurate accounting and some overpayments.
"It's a layer of complicated issues that take away from the performance of the police officer or the firefighter," Ramirez said.
While not perfect, the individual payment plan system has worked well as a stopgap measure for police officers, Ramirez said.
"It's better than it was, cause an officer knows they're not just going to have whatever amount of the overage is deducted out of their paycheck without the opportunity to negotiate the repayment," he said.
In addition to software updates, the city is reviewing its processes to make it easier for first responders to enter their hours accurately, said assistant city manager Valerie Washington.
The city is also simplifying its pay stubs to make it easier for employees to read.
"When they bought the old system, they just didn't take into account that employees would want to clearly read their paychecks," Washington said.
Under the new system, Washington said firefighters will clearly be able to see a dollar amount tied to whatever their pay rate is, so they can easily spot discrepancies and raise those with the city.
The city expects the system to be up and running by late summer or early fall.
(c)2022 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram