WI: $159K Bus Driver No Longer Tops the List of Highest Earners in Madison City Government

June 7, 2011
Only one Metro Transit driver used overtime and other extra earnings to make more than $100,000 in 2010, down from seven six-figure-salary operators the previous year, a Wisconsin State Journal analysis of city records shows.

Madison's highest paid employee no longer drives a bus - not even close.

Only one Metro Transit driver used overtime and other extra earnings to make more than $100,000 in 2010, down from seven six-figure-salary operators the previous year, a Wisconsin State Journal analysis of city records shows.

In fact, after Metro added more drivers and spread overtime work, operators dropped from the city's 25 top earners last year.

"We need to be true to our mission - safety, reliability and cost-effective service," Kamp said. "I think we're on a sustainable course."

Bus driver John E. Nelson made $113,973 to lead Metro employees but fell to 37th place among all city workers, the analysis shows. He was the lone driver in the top 50 earners last year.

By contrast, in 2009, Nelson's $159,258 made him the city's top earner, and three drivers were in the top 25 that year.

The drop comes after the State Journal revealed last year how senior drivers took advantage of generous overtime rules to dramatically increase earnings and pad pensions.

Bus drivers should fall further from the top tier of city earners due to new contract provisions that took effect this year that give Metro management more flexibility in using part-time operators, make employees work while suspended, and tighten rules for drivers getting extra work, officials said.

The top 25 earners for 2010 looked far more traditional, jammed with top managers and attorneys.

Former Planning and Community and Economic Development Development Director Mark Olinger, who cashed in a lot of accrued vacation and sick time, was the city's top earner at $168,439. Finance Director Dean Brasser was second at $146,357 and Police Chief Noble Wray third at $139,891.

Overture Center Director Tom Carto got $124,197 from the city and another $36,000 from the private Overture Center Foundation for a total $160,197.

Due to one fewer pay period last year, total pay, base pay and some extra earnings dropped from 2009, Brasser said.

Despite changes at Metro, the city still pays a lot in overtime and extra earnings.

City employees last year got $6.29 million in overtime, $2.1 million in shift and premium pay, $2.1 million in sick day payouts and $1 million in vacation payouts. Eleven employees, including nine Metro drivers and mechanics, earned more than $20,000 apiece in overtime.

A handful of agencies mounted the most overtime costs in 2010.

Police had the most, $2.15 million, while Metro, the Fire Department, the Streets Division and Engineering all had more than $500,000.

The public expects overtime in some areas, such as policing or snow plowing, and overtime isn't always bad for city budgets because municipalities can use it to avoid the higher cost of hiring more permanent personnel with benefits, experts have said.

The spotlight on city overtime pay has been on Metro, where 14 bus drivers were among the city's top 25 highest overtime earners in 2009.

In 2010, seven drivers - led by Nelson's $46,101 - and eight Metro mechanics were among the top 25. Only two other agencies - police and engineering - had more than one employee in that category last year. Nelson declined comment.

Still, Metro's overtime payout was down from 2009 and under the 2010 budget, Kamp said. Overall, the agency was under budget last year, he said.

Staffing changes didn't undermine safety, Kamp said, noting that preventable accidents hit a six-year low last year.

After contract changes that began this year, driver overtime costs in the first quarter this year was down $140,000 compared to the same period last year, he said.

Teamsters leader Gene Gowey did not return phone calls.

The high amount of overtime for mechanics last year was due to vacancies, Kamp said, adding that jobs have been filled and that mechanic overtime is down from the first quarter of 2011.

Overtime costs fell 7.7 percent in the Police Department to $2.15 million, and 44 percent to $617,000 in the Streets Division last year. But costs rose 32 percent to $807,220 in the Fire Department.

Police overtime hours increased slightly but costs dropped because many officers used overtime for time off rather than cash, Assistant Chief Randy Gaber said. The department was slightly over its overtime budget last year.

Police overtime is influenced by special events, like the visit by President Barack Obama, where holidays fall, SWAT calls and contractual obligations, Gaber said.

Protests at the Capitol are causing more overtime this year. In the first quarter, overtime hours rose 41 percent and costs jumped 72 percent to $721,358. Costs are higher because officers are taking pay rather than time off, Gaber said.

"If we're short staffed, it's harder for officers to get time off," he said.

The department has a contingency plan to limit overtime, but costs could be $300,000 over budget this year, he said.

Streets overtime fell last year because the snowfall in 2010 was less than the previous year, Superintendent Al Schumacher said. But a snowy start to 2011 means costs will be up this year, he said.

In the Fire Department, higher overtime costs were due mostly to staffing a new fire station and ambulance company while new hires were in training, finance manager Rita Johnson said.

But the department was under its overtime and total budgets, she said.

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