Lebanon: Payroll dispute with police union resolved

By Jennifer Moody
For Lebanon Local

Part of a payroll dispute between the City of Lebanon and the Lebanon Police Department’s union appears to have been resolved, at least for now.

City officials say the entire situation has been corrected. Representatives from the Lebanon Police Department Association could not be reached to confirm, but the union’s president, Officer Timothy Trahan, made it clear to the Lebanon City Council in June he did not believe everything was fixed.

“No member of the association trusts anything coming from City Hall regarding payroll,” Trahan said during the public comment portion of the June 14 meeting. “We have not and will not trust any statement as to the calculation of underpayment, overpayment, or even if we are told we are being paid correctly.”

Lebanon began using a payroll system in January run by a company called Automatic Data Processing, Inc. The dispute stems from a payroll issue that, according to city officials, erroneously paid some officers in March and April more than they were supposed to have earned.

When the city asked for the money back, some association members balked, saying the error was not theirs and they didn’t have any assurance the new numbers were accurate. The city then told officers it might take them to small claims court to reclaim the money.

Representatives from the city and from the union, affiliated with Teamsters Local 223, completed signatures July 11 on a letter of agreement for payroll adjustments to correct the overpayment. It went into effect on signing.

The agreement allows bargaining members the option of repaying wages they received in error last spring through payroll deductions, as long as they agree in writing. It gives them until the end of the calendar year to make the repayment.

The letter also clarifies that members will not be responsible for paying the money back if city officials fail to provide specific information, in writing, detailing the amount owed and how that amount was calculated.

Finance Director Brandon Neish confirmed in an email that if future overpayments occur, a new agreement with the union will be necessary.

However, he wrote, “Adjustments have been made in ADP to prevent further overpayment opportunities from a software perspective. That does not eliminate the human error that could still occur, albeit far less likely.”

Trahan said in a voicemail he could not comment to reporters on the situation without express permission from his supervisor. However, he gave a detailed report on the union’s concerns to the Lebanon City Council during public comment on June 14 and said at that time he had no confidence anything had changed.

Payroll problems have been going on for months if not years, Trahan said, but accelerated earlier this year when Lebanon contracted ADP. Trahan alleged ADP’s calculations have been problematic from the start, to the point where no association members trust their paycheck totals.

“Ultimately, none of our association members are payroll experts, accountants or finance personnel. We’ve been told ad nauseum for years now to keep eye on our paystubs for accuracy. This has caused us undue stress and an expectation to fulfill an obligation we are not qualified for,” he said.

Trahan alleged the city knew there could be problems with ADP’s system but went ahead with a rollout anyway. He said members received emails threatening small claims court and alleged they were sent without officials first checking to see if ADP’s new figures were accurate.

Trahan stressed that Neish had been working hard with association members to fix errors and remain in communication. However, he said, problems have persisted.

“All of us expect this to happen again no matter what or who is to blame the next time it happens,” he said.

At the June meeting, Neish told councilors shortcomings have been identified and that the three payrolls following the problems in spring were all issued correctly. Trahan did not respond to messages left asking whether he agreed.

City Manager Nancy Brewer, who abruptly resigned on July 13 following a performance review, gave some information on the ADP situation in a July 12 email but was not available for followup.

Brewer said Lebanon began looking in 2019 for a successor to its former payroll company, Springbrook, and switched to ADP this past January. She said ADP is used for all city employees.

Springbrook cost far less than ADP – $4,136 per year compared with $28,000 – but provided only a “very basic payroll system” with a manual time entry that “did not do a good job of accounting for time worked outside of an employee’s schedule,” Brewer wrote. ADP, in contrast, included “the full suite of human resources information system,” covering all scheduled time including lunch breaks.

Brewer said in her email the replacement options for the Springbrook payroll system were limited and often part of an entire financial system, which she said was “too costly for us to procure and implement.”

“That led us to look for other alternatives to address payroll and human resources tracking only,” she wrote. “ADP was the least costly option and provided much more versatility in addressing compliance issues we were having.”

At the June meeting, councilors told Trahan they had heard there had been problems with the ADP system, although they said they had had no formal reports or staff meetings on the subject. Some expressed frustration at the lack of communication and the realization that the problem had not been resolved.

“This is at the point of ridiculous,” said Michelle Steinhebel, council president. “We’re six months in and we can’t get this thing to work.”

During council discussion, Steinhebel said she was particularly upset about the way the city was attempting to recoup its losses. “That we are at the point – if that was something that was said – that we have to essentially threaten with legal action of our police officers? It’s a little ironic.”

City Attorney Tré Kennedy said the city had little choice. Legally, he said, officials cannot simply choose to garnish paychecks to recoup overpayments.

Brewer, who was still city manager at the time, told the council she hadn’t spoken with them about the situation because at that time, it had not been resolved.

Brewer said the spring overpayments happened after ADP was asked to create a new code in the system that affected other code calculations. This affected officers whose paychecks included vacation or sick leave, overtime and premiums for their status, resulting in double or triple payments instead of one.

She added there is no way to first run a test on ADP’s payroll system after making a change. “We can only do this and produce a live check,” she said.

A shift from once a month payments to twice a month also complicated matters, Brewer said, particularly trying to calculate monthly overtime.

That said, Brewer said she feels ADP is a good product as well as being within Lebanon’s budget.

“We are trying really hard to pay people correctly,” she said. “We have a workforce, if you’ll pardon the expression, that busts its butt all day every day, and I want to make sure those people are being paid for the time that they’re working. And I want to make sure they’re paid correctly. We are doing our level best to do that.”