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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Since federal law requires hourly employees to be paid for travel time, the Colfax Village Board has authorized the village’s administrator to amend the employee handbook to reflect the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The issue came up when Colfax Police Officer Kurt Devroy made a training request for Drug Recognition Expert training in Milwaukee, noted Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, at the Colfax Village Board’s April 22 meeting.
The Colfax Village Board approved at the March 25 meeting a request to send Devroy to the 16-day training, which will require four trips to Milwaukee.
A grant covers the cost of the training, including tuition, lodging and two meals per day.
Devroy told the village board he would be driving the village’s old squad car, which various village employees use to go to training, and estimated the cost of gasoline for the four trips to be $215.
Some departments pay their officers for for their travel time, but Devroy said he would be driving “for free.”
The village’s employee handbook, which has replaced collective bargaining agreements with employees, states employees will be reimbursed for meals and expenses but does not stipulate that employees will be paid for travel time.
Gary Stene, who has since retired as village president, said at the March 25 meeting the village should be paying for travel time.
Several village board members were of the opinion at the March 25 meeting that Devroy should not be paid for his travel time since the training is not required to maintain his law enforcement certification.
“I was actually surprised it came up as an issue,” said Colfax Police Chief William Anderson at the April 22 meeting.
Anderson was unable to attend the March 25 meeting.
Anderson said he has been in law enforcement for 19 years, that he has always been paid for travel time when going to training, and that he had expected Devroy would be paid for travel time going to training.
Officer Devroy will have his duty gear with him, and if an emergency should come up, no matter where Office Devroy is, he would be expected to respond, the police chief said.
The DRE training is not required training for Officer Devroy, but police officers are required to obtain 24 hours of training every year, and the DRE training would count toward the required 24 hours, Police Chief Anderson said.
Niggemann provided information on the Fair Labors Standard Act to the village board.
According to the information sheet from the U.S. Department of Labor, “Travel that keeps an employee away from home overnight is travel time away from home. Travel away from home is clearly work time when it cuts across the employee’s workday. The time is not only hours worked on a regular working days during normal working hours but also during corresponding hours on non-working days.”
The only time the Department of Labor would not consider enforcing payment of travel time as work time is if the employee was a passenger traveling outside of regular working hours on an airplane, train, boat, bus or automobile — although nothing prevents an employer from paying an employee for travel time if the employee is a passenger.
According to federal law, if Devroy is driving to training, he should be paid for his travel time, Niggemann said.
The village board can regulate whether employees are paid for travel time to training if employees are riding as passengers, she said.
If the travel time puts the employee above 40 hours, then must overtime be paid? asked Keith Burcham, village trustee.
If the time is over 40 hours, then it is overtime, Niggemann said.
Niggemann can rewrite that section of the employee handbook and check to make sure the village is not violating federal labor law, and then the amended handbook can be brought back to the village board for approval, said Village President Scott Gunnufson.
The Colfax Village Board unanimously approved a motion authorizing Niggemann to amend the employee handbook to reflect the Fair Labor Standards Act regarding travel time and to bring the amended handbook back to the village board for approval.
In an agenda item related to the police department, the Colfax Village Board also improved increasing the rate of pay for part-time police officers from $14.50 per hour to a range of $16 to $18 per hour.
“After calling around to different departments, I realized we are really at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to part-time wages,” Police Chief Anderson said.
The police chief suggested a range of $16 to $18 per hour for part-time police officers to cover shifts on the weekend in Colfax.
If the officer is right out of school, $16 would be appropriate, but if someone like Rod Dicus wanted to work part-time, $18 or $19 would be appropriate, he said.
Dicus retired earlier this year from the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department.
The police department has money in the budget to support the increase in wages, Police Chief Anderson said.
The Colfax Police Department has been experiencing difficulty in hiring part-time officers for the weekend, and an increase in pay may help attract officers to work in Colfax, he said.
“I have no issue with the increase because I know what it’s like to hire somebody at a wage that is not significant. You get what you pay for. That’s my view,” said Mark Halpin, village trustee.
“I did not realize we were the lowest until I called around,” Police Chief Anderson said.
According to information the police chief provided to the village board, Elk Mound pays $15 per hour for part-time officers; Black River Falls pays $19.46; Fall Creek pays $18; Cadott pays $19; Augusta pays $15; Cornell pays $16.32; Boyceville pays $16 to $18; Glenwood City pays $15.75; and Bloomer pays $24.12.
There are 512 weekend hours left in the year, and the total cost of the increase for the part-time weekend hours would be $1,792, Niggemann said.
The total cost for the increase over an entire year would be about $3,000, she noted.
Police Chief Anderson said he has hired officers for part-time work but before they can even start the job in Colfax, they call and say they have been offered a full-time job with another department.
Only one part-time police officer is on duty at a time over the weekends in Colfax, although two are on duty during the Colfax Free Fair and the Colfax Firefighters Ball.
The Colfax Village Board unanimously approved a motion to pay part-time police officers $16 to $18 per hour with the police chief deciding by his criteria what the rate of pay will be for each individual officer.