Carson City fire trio collected over 16,000 hours of pay last year, a review of time card and salary data show

Robert Fellner

Three Carson City firefighters each logged over 5,000 hours’ worth of pay last year, according to a review of just-released salary and time card data conducted by the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI).

After earning more OT than any other firefighter in the state in 2016, Carson City Fire Captain Matthew Donnelly is poised to reclaim that spot in 2017, after receiving a $110,162 OT payout on top of his $96,866 regular salary.

Absent an unprecedented OT payout from the yet-to-be provided 2017 Clark County data, this would mark the 2nd year in a row Donnelly received the largest OT payment of any firefighter in the state.

Because firefighters work a 24-hour shift, their contract calls for a total of 2,912 working hours in a regular year, which represents roughly 121 days of on-call duty per calendar year.

But none of Carson City’s top 3 OT earners approached anywhere near the 2,912 regular hours baseline, despite collecting over 2,000 hours of OT each, as shown in the chart below: 

Because Carson City provides a staggering amount of paid leave time, and then awards overtime pay based on hours paid, not actually worked, many Carson City firefighters can more than double their base salary though inflated overtime pay.

So if an employee was scheduled to work Monday and Tuesday, but elected to take those days off via some of their paid leave time, any and all hours they worked later in that week would be considered overtime pay.

This system has successfully enabled many workers to dramatically inflate their earnings, despite not actually working the number of hours indicated on their time cards. In the below list, each job classification’s maximum possible annual salary — as reported on the City’s salary schedule — is reported in parentheses, followed by that employee’s actual earnings for the 2017 year:

  1. Fire captain ($89,918) Matthew Donnelly received $214,188 in total earnings and $293,290 in total pay and benefits.
  2. Fire department driver/operator ($73,894) Raffi Attashian received $184,781 in total earnings and $253,776 in total pay and benefits.
  3. Fire department driver/operator ($73,894) Travis Howe received $183,771 in total earnings and $244,622 in total pay and benefits.

This reveals the importance of reporting complete and accurate pay information, according to NPRI Executive Director of Transparency Research Robert Fellner.

“Residents that consult Carson City’s official salary schedules might be under the impression that their public servants earn the salaries displayed, but complete data reveals that their actual earnings can be more than double that amount.”

Staggering amounts of paid leave

All three employees have been able to consistently rank among Carson City’s top OT earners because of the tremendous amount of paid leave hours provided to Carson City fire employees.

Over the past 3 years, the annual paid leave hours for Attashian, Donnelly and Howe averaged 951, 895, and 843, respectively.

When measured in terms of a 24-hour day, that translates to a combined 119, 112 and 105 days of paid leave respectively over the past three years.

“The staggering volume of paid leave in conjunction with the fraudulent policy of treating paid leave as actual hours worked produces the system’s intended effect: vastly inflated pay packages at the expense of taxpayers who, on average, earn much less themselves,” explained Fellner.

Gaming an already-gamed system

While all 3 received more overtime pay than their regular salary in 2017, Captain Donnelly was the only one to do so for two years in a row.

Donnelly’s soaring OT in 2016 is particularly unusual given it occurred despite a department-wide reduction in OT pay.

For example, in 2015 Donnelly collected $70,398 in OT on top of his $95,757 regular salary. In 2016, however, Donnelly’s OT increased by 57 percentwhile the average Carson City fire fighter’s OT decreased by 20 percent:

The below chart shows, in actual dollars, the average overtime pay for a full-time Carson City firefighter as compared to Donnelly over the past 3 years:

Carson City fire employees also receive fully-paid retirement benefits, fully-paid life insurance, fully-paid medical insurance and 90% city-paid retiree health insurance benefits and are scheduled to receive annual raises of no less than 3% for each of the next 6 years.

Carson City officials did not respond to a request for comment as to why the City adopted a policy whereby paid leave is treated as actual work for the purpose of calculating overtime pay.

To view the entire payroll dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, please visit TransparentNevada.com.

Robert Fellner

Robert Fellner

Director of Policy

Robert Fellner is NPRI’s policy director and joined the Institute in December 2013. Robert has written extensively on the issue of transparency in government. He has also conducted legal research and assisted in crafting legal arguments for numerous public records-related lawsuits, including one which prevailed at the Nevada Supreme Court, resulting in a landmark decision that protected and expanded Nevadans’ rights to access and inspect government records.

An expert on government compensation and its impact on taxes, Robert has authored multiple studies on public pay and pensions. He has been published in Business Insider, Forbes.com, the Las Vegas Review Journal, the Los Angeles Times, RealClearPolicy.com, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, ZeroHedge.com and elsewhere.

Robert has lived in Las Vegas since 2005 when he moved to Nevada to become a professional poker player. Robert has had a remarkably successfully poker career including two top 10 World Series of Poker finishes and being ranked #1 in the world at 10/20 Pot-Limit Omaha cash games.

Additionally, his economic analysis on the minimum wage won first place in a 2011 George Mason University essay contest. He also independently organized a successful grassroots media and fundraising effort for a 2012 presidential candidate, before joining the campaign in an official capacity.