Saturday, April 13, 2024

Louisiana audit finds hundreds of supplemental overpayments for first responders

by BIZ Magazine

(The Center Square) — Hundreds of ineligible employees, $574,942 in overpayments, and a lack of oversight are plaguing the state’s supplemental pay program for law enforcement and fire personnel.

Louisiana Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack published a report on Thursday with the findings following a review of the supplemental pay program mandated by lawmakers during the 2023 legislative session.

In total, 715 justices of the peace and constables receive payments of $120 a month, while 5,617 municipal and tribal firemen, 5,225 police officers, and 8,176 deputy sheriffs receive payments of $600 a month. Those payments equate to a monthly distribution of about $11.6 million, or $140 million per year.

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Those figures, auditors wrote, are higher than they should be for various reasons.

“Municipal Police and Fire Supplemental Pay Board have not consistently enforced state law, which has resulted in ineligible individuals receiving supplemental pay,” the report read. “In addition, some Sheriff’s staff whose job duties do not meet state law are receiving supplemental pay.”

Auditors documented numerous examples of fire employees receiving supplemental pay who are specifically prohibited by state law that “excludes any person hired primarily to perform secretarial and clerical duties, switchboard operators, secretaries, record clerks, maintenance personnel, and mechanics.”

“Reviewing firemen’s supplemental pay information, we found 152 communications officers, records clerk, IT staff, supply technicians, mechanics, and other similar job positions who received approximately $1.1 million in supplemental pay for fiscal year 2023,” auditors wrote. “We also identified 46 staff in positions such as prevention/safety training, and EMS staff who are not explicitly excluded in state law from receiving supplemental pay but do not fight fires.”

Other findings show the Department of Public Safety’s process for distributing supplemental pay is inefficient, confusing and leads to overpayments.

“DPS sends out supplemental pay funds each month prior to receiving certification from municipalities, which results in payments to ex-employees,” the report read. “As of December 2023, $574,942 in overpayments has not been repaid to the state since 2003.”

Auditors also noted police chiefs are receiving supplemental pay despite many not complying with continuing education requirements in state law.

“As of November 2023, 75 (23.6%) out of 318 Chiefs of Police, who are members of the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police, have not taken the 12 hours of continuing education annually as required by state law,” the report read. “In addition, 10 (3.1%) are new Chiefs of Police who have not taken the required ‘New Chief’s’ class/training within the first year of their administration.”

Officials with the Department of Public Safety and supplemental pay boards responded to the audit by largely agreeing with recommendations to more closely scrutinize supplemental pay eligibility and remove those who do not qualify.

DPS officials, however, suggested the department does not “possess the authority to overturn decisions made by the respective Boards of Review.

“Statutes that govern each board provide that ‘the decision of the board with regard to eligibility shall be final,'” DPS staff wrote. “While DPS may not agree with the Boards’ decision(s), state law currently does not grant DPS authority to deviate from their decision(s). DPS believes the Legislature should consider legislation that would further define who is eligible, to increase uniformity in the approval process.”

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