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City lifeguards to keep extra pay

Council decides not to force repayment

POSTED August 24, 2010 11:39 p.m.

The City of Turlock will not force part-time aquatics workers who were accidentally overpaid to return money to the city, following a Turlock City Council decision Tuesday evening.

The decision directs city staff to take no further action to seek recovery of the overpayment, and leaves the repayment decision up to each affected employee.

“Some of the employees have already taken the action to repay the city,” City Manager Roy Wasden said. “We appreciate their integrity. … Others are not wanting to make the payment, and we will leave that up to the individual employees.”

As of Aug. 15, two of the 40 lifeguards had repaid the overpaid amount.

The overpayment has roots in a $1 per hour pay cut for all recreation employees, agreed to by the Turlock City Council in the 2010-2011 budget adopted June 22. The pay cut was implemented July 1 for all rec employees save for part-time aquatics staff, who were left out due to an administrative error. The lifeguards were never even notified of the change in pay.

 At the direction of Councilman Ted Howze, Tuesday’s motion was amended from placing blame on the city to place blame for the error squarely on the Turlock aquatics supervisor. The change led Councilwoman Mary Jackson to vote against the motion, though she supported abandoning attempts to recover the overpaid salary.

“I think I’m comfortable with putting this to rest,” Jackson said. “I don’t think anybody did this deliberately.”

The part-time aquatics staff were overpaid by $6 to $49 each, with a total overpayment of less than $1,000.

The lifeguards were notified of the erroneous pay via memo on Aug. 2, at which time they were informed the overpayment would be taken from their Aug. 5 paycheck. Part-time aquatics employees took issue with the retroactive pay cut, which they deemed illegal, addressing a memo to Wasden and contacting the state labor relations board.

The retroactive deductions were tabled at that time, and lifeguards were given the opportunity to repay the overpayment with a payment plan or by working extra hours. Neither were acceptable options to the majority of part-time aquatics staff, including Maggie Hinckle, who said she was “manipulated” and “bullied” in an Aug. 9 meeting with Wasden and City Attorney Phaedra Norton.

“I was made to feel like I was stealing from the city,” Hinckle said.

Howze said it was “unfair” to blame Wasden or Norton for the error, and that they were merely doing their best to correct the mistake. Howze, Jackson and Councilwoman Amy Bublak all voiced support for the swim program and the lifeguards, apologizing for the error and mistreatment before asking them to return for another summer.

Hinckle went on to voice her “extreme disappointment” with how the city handled the overpayment, before disdainfully bringing forward a check for the $41 she was overpaid. Other lifeguards brought bags full of pennies to repay the city, should the council have decided to seek recovery of the funds.

“I think you should come get your $41 check back,” Howze said later, during council comment.

After the 4-1 vote to abandoned the forced repayment, Hinckle did just that.

“That’s grocery money,” Hinckle, a California State University, Stanislaus student, said as she returned to her seat, check in hand.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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