Payroll takes up the biggest chunk of taxpayers in the local government's budget. Using the Freedom of Information Act to review payroll records for both Raleigh and Wake County government, WRAL Investigates found some employees working long hours and making a lot of extra pay.
County officials said the reason is dozens of vacant positions within the local government that cannot go unmanned.
For 24 hours each day, telephone workers in Raleigh's 911 center save lives. To fill shifts, however, they rack up a lot of overtime.
According to payroll records, in 2004, supervisor Jessie Creech made more than $54,000 in base pay. Extra shifts earned him $44,000 more in overtime, increasing his salary to just under $100,000.
"I don't think anyone would ever say that that much overtime is acceptable," said Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen. "But it's necessary."
At the Wake County jail, 13 nurses monitor the health of 1,200 inmates.
Jocelyn Hood made more than $56,000 in base pay in 2004. Wake County paid her an extra $63,000 in overtime for her long hours, pushing her pay to nearly $120,000.
Hood made more than her boss, Sheriff Donnie Harrison.
"I'm just thankful we've got nurses that will work that overtime," Harrison said.
Running the jail around the clock requires nurses and detention officers, who account for the top 10 overtime earners in all of Wake County government.
"The jail is one of our biggest headaches if you want to put it that way, because that's something that we've got to do," Harrison said. "We've got to have the personnel there for safety reasons."
Sheriff's office employees made $1.5 million in overtime last year.
Seven out of 10 of the city's leading overtime earners work the emergency lines.
Raleigh's 911 center budgets nearly $500,000 of taxpayer money for extra work hours.
Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen said the solution is not as simple as just hiring more people. Finding workers who can handle the emergency calls and the stress, he said, is a constant struggle.
"In the 911 center, I think it's a very unusual work environment," Allen said.
Veterans often step in to fill mandatory shifts.
"We are constantly trying new things, but it's a challenge," Allen said.
Since his election in 2002, Harrison has actually cut overtime by more than $1 million.
"We've looked at several different options," Harrison said. "We even looked at going out and getting people to work part-time."
He filled dozens of vacant positions, but training and detention center demands still weigh on his budget.
"We can't close the doors and say we're not going to do this," Harrison said. "If we can't have a nurse, we've got to come up with one somewhere or another. We've got to come up with medical, because if we don't we're going to be in for a big lawsuit."
The overtime numbers at the jail and emergency call center frustrates the politicians who watch over government payroll.
"It doesn't mean we've stopped trying," said Jessie Taliaferro of the Raleigh City Council. "We're continually trying to solve this and make sure that we have adequate staffing and have addressed all of the needs of our workers. And if anybody has any other ideas or suggestion, I'm certainly open to them."
City and county leaders argue, despite some extreme examples, total overtime costs are reasonable.
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