Residents, village officials seek answers in ‘potential overpayments’ with police

Photos by Tom Rivers: The board room in the Albion Village Hall was full for Wednesday’s Village Board meeting. In front from left are Village Trustee Chris Barry, Mayor Angel Javier Jr., and trustees Zack Burgess and Tim McMurray.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 July 2022 at 7:29 am

ALBION – The village board room was packed on Wednesday with many residents concerned about whether the village had been overpaying its police officers, and whether those funds – $236,000 over five years – should be recouped.

A CPA firm last week presented the results of a forensic audit, looking at officers’ pay checks over five years, since the village shifted from having officers work five 8-hour shifts a week to 12-hour shifts. With the 12-hour shifts officers worked seven shifts every two weeks for 84 hours of straight time. The change was made to reduce overtime in the police department and to give officers more days off.

Mayor Angel Javier Jr., left, and Trustee Chris Barry spoke at the meeting. Barry faulted the mayor for reducing officers’ pay one pay cycle before the issue had been fully researched.

The CPA firm, The Bonadio Group, said the village made an error in determining the hourly pay rate. The annual salaries should have been divided by 2,184 hours. That’s 84 hours multiplied by 26 weeks.

However, the village used the hours in a 40-hour week or 2,080 for the year. When the salary was divided by 2,080, instead of 2,184, the hourly rate was about 5 percent higher than it should have been.

Bonadio said 15 officers were overpaid ranging from $650 to a maximum of $27,000.

Mayor Angel Javier Jr. unilaterally lowered the officers pay to what he believed was the correct rate. That lasted one pay period in June before the police union filed a grievance and three other board members – Chris Barry, Zack Burgess and Tim McMurray – voted to have the officers continue to be paid at the rate they were getting.

That was before Bonadio submitted its report on July 12.

“We didn’t have evidence in front of us,” Burgess said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Barry said the issue remains unresolved without a final report. He is holding off on making a decision until there are more details.

Village Attorney John Gavenda said the village will have hearings with the police officers’ union as it works to resolve the issue.

“We’re working our way through the process,” Gavenda told residents during Wednesday’s meeting. “We have hearings coming up with the police department. We don’t have answers right now to everything.”

Javier was urged to look into the issue by a village employee in April. He said it came as a shock that the pay rates seemed to be off. Javier said the “potential overpayment” continues and the numbers grow each pay period.

“It is compounded with overtime and everything,” he said.

He has reached out to the state comptroller’s office for an opinion and a course of action.

Some residents spoke at Wednesday’s meeting. Lori Laine, a business owner in the village, said she thinks the village should go to the correct pay schedule with the officers, but not seek any repayments if the village made an error in calculating the pay. She didn’t think that would be fair to the officers.

Her husband Tom Laine also urged the village “to put the brakes on it” and not continuing paying officers at the higher rate.

Javier, in an interview on Sunday, said he wants to hear from the state comptroller’s office about the issue, whether the village needs to pursue getting money back from overpayments.

Kevin Sheehan, a former village trustee and deputy mayor, said the village will lose officers if Albion goes after money caused by a village mistake. Other officers won’t want to come and work at Albion, Sheehan said, calling the issue “a load of crap.”

“You know how hard is it to get people here,” Sheehan said. “No one will want to come here. You’re stepping over dollars to save dimes.”

He said he is sympathetic to the officers, many who are early in their careers with young families and mortgages.

“They’ve made financial commitments,” he said.