One Anne Arundel County police officer was still waiting for his paycheck on the day his mortgage was due. Another had earned overtime for working double shifts, but payday came and went with no sign of the money. A corporal received a pay stub showing he had used three weeks of vacation -- in a single week.
During the four months since the county introduced a new payroll system, several hundred county police officers and firefighters have been issued paychecks with errors. Union leaders are losing patience -- and the County Council is setting a deadline for improvements.
The automated system, which cost the county $2.9 million to install, seems to be working for the county's 9-to-5 employees. But those who receive overtime pay and allowances for clothing, mileage and shift work have been finding weekly mistakes that range from small change to hundreds of dollars, according to county employees.
"We're concerned that this system may never work correctly," said O'Brien Atkinson, president of the county chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Several County Council members agreed this week that they might ask the county to find a new payroll system if the problems aren't resolved. The council members have given the county two months.
County personnel officials dispute the magnitude of the problem, saying that during the last pay period, there were only a dozen errors in 5,000 paychecks.
"That's excellent," said the county's personnel director, Mark M. Atkisson. "We've had some growing pains. ... But we've offered to ask the county's auditor and an independent auditor to come in and look at whether we're paying people correctly. We believe we are."
Atkisson said two months should be enough time to ensure errors that have been fixed don't recur. It should also give payroll specialists time for additional training, he said.
The automated payroll program, provided by Automated Data Processing Inc., replaced the county's partially computerized payroll system in January. Before the county went online with the new system, only the printing of checks was handled by a computer, Atkisson said.
The three unions representing county police officers, firefighters and other municipal employees say problems with ADP are more widespread than the county acknowledges. Among the other municipal employees, mistakes are more frequent because many receive their county paychecks every week, Mike Akers, president of AFSCME Local 582, told council members at their work session this week.
The FOP president said he also is concerned that although the system regularly catches overpayments, underpayments continue to slip by, forcing county employees to figure out whether they've been shortchanged.
"It's really unfair," he said. "We have officers who are just throwing their hands up because they don't have time to become accountants."
The situation is similar for firefighters, said Keith W. Wright, president of the county's Professional Fire Fighters Local 1563.
"Our problems have gotten better since the beginning," he said. "But we're still experiencing them."
Wright said he was pleased to hear the council members agree during their work session Thursday night to review the shortcomings of the system again in 60 days.
"They're asking, 'At what point do we cut our losses and scrap this system?' I'm pleased they're really looking at this," he said.
Councilwoman Shirley Murphy, a Pasadena Democrat, said she realizes that the system is complex, handling calculations for overtime and varied pay scales and types of insurance.
But, she said, "It sounds like it's getting worse. I think we've got to figure out if, in fact, this system is going to work."