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by Mark Reutter7:17 pmDec 17, 20190

Baltimore’s garbage service is plagued by “overtime waste”

The Bureau of Solid Waste lavishes money on overtime while it falls behind in collecting trash from the streets, says a critical report by Baltimore’s Inspector General

Above: A Baltimore garbage truck rolls through a very clean and green neighborhood. (DPW)

The agency responsible for collecting the city’s trash is itself beset with wasteful practices, Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming said today.

Mismanagement, lack of accountability and poor employee deployment have “overshadowed the hard work of the men and women” at the Bureau of Solid Waste, a division within the Department of Public Works, according to a report issued by her office.

“The OIG understands and appreciates [the employees’] hard work and attributes the financial waste and mismanagement uncovered to select members of the management team,” Cumming wrote.

The investigation found that curbside pickup frequently undergoes route delays because the agency is chronically understaffed – leading to garbage piling up on the streets and alleys even as overtime costs skyrocket.

In FY2018, Solid Waste spent more than $1.1 million above the $406,844 budgeted for overtime – or twice as much as it saved by not filling permanent positions, Cumming said.

Excerpt from OIG report on Solid Waste Bureau (SW):
Excerpt from OIG report on Solid Waste Bureau
• FULL REPORT: Financial waste and mismanagement within the curbside collections operation in the DPW’s Bureau of Solid Waste

In a review of overtime slips at the agency’s Reedbird and Bowley’s Lane yards, investigators found “questionable justifications for overtime, wasteful overtime practices and discrepancies in the actual overtime worked by an employee and the number of compensated hours.”

Among the pickup crews, overtime was “skewed.” A few employees doubled, or nearly doubled, their regular salary with 1,000 or more hours of overtime, while other employees got as little as one hour of overtime per year.

Overtime payments in FY19 to drivers and SSWs (solid waste workers) in FY19. Three employees collectively received over $98,000 in overtime payments. (OIG)

Overtime for select garbage truck drivers and SSWs (solid waste workers) in FY19. Three top recipients collected nearly $100,000 in overtime. (OIG)

Supervisors regularly paid crews an hour or more of overtime as an incentive to get them to complete their route or service a new route.

In one case, a crew was paid for working 14 hours when a GPS tracking device showed that their truck was out of the yard for less than 10 hours.

There were other instances where the administrative paperwork said a route began at 6 a.m. and concluded at 4 p.m., but the GPS device showed “the truck was stationary well after 6 a.m. and came back to the yard prior to 4 p.m,” the report said.

Hanging Around

Driving up costs were such archaic practices as requiring supervisors, superintendents and yardmen to all remain “on location” until the last crew completed its route.

This practice not only resulted in “unnecessary accrual of compensatory time in addition to overtime,” the report said, but made it difficult to determine what employees had access to keys at solid waste yards, raising questions about the safety and security of the facilities.

• ALSO SEE: Special “garbage day” at Cross Keys costs the city $100,000 (11/26/19)

To keep residential pickups from falling too far behind schedule, personnel were “borrowed” from other bureau operations, such as rat abatement, vacant lot clean-ups and the collection of bulk garbage.

The “borrowed” employees did not work under the same union rules as the garbage crews, which meant that they often clocked out before a route was completed.

A crew was paid for 14 hours when a GPS tracking device showed that their truck was out of the yard for less than 10 hours.

When this occurred, a garbage crew would have to return to a yard – often miles away from their pickup route – and wait for another employee to become available, delaying the pickup schedule while increasing crew costs.

DPW Agrees with Findings

Solid Waste is a division of DPW, whose director, Rudy Chow, is scheduled to retire on February 1. The bureau is curerntly managed by John F. Chalmers and broken down into eight quadrants and divisions.

As of July 2019, three of the eight units had vacant top positions and a fourth was filled by an acting chief.

Chalmers did not respond to the report’s findings. Instead, DPW Deputy Director Matt Garbark issued a statement that mostly agreed with the report’s findings and even thanked Cumming for her investigation.

Solid Waste often borrows crews from other operations, such as rat abatement, vacant lot clean-ups and the collection of bulk garbage.

Garbark acknowledged that “relying heavily on overtime is a problem. We are actively examining ways to we can reduce overtime whenever possible.”

He said division chiefs, superintendents and supervisors are responsible for tracking overtime hours, and “it is at their discretion to manage and equalize overtime hours.”

However, he promised that senior management will “issue a memo stating that supervisors are to manage and equalize all overtime hours” and said a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) will be created “to regulate how overtime is approved.”

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