Montgomery County paid out $63.3 million in overtime wages for more than 5,000 county employees over 18 months, with public safety departments accounting for 70 percent all overtime costs, according to a new county audit.

Fire and Rescue Services racked up the most overtime of any executive-branch department, accounting for one-third, or about 379,000 hours, of all overtime worked in the county.

A new report released by the county's Office of Legislative Oversight examined work hours, vacation, sick leave and overtime hours of employees of the county's executive branch, which includes 6,789 employees in seven departments.

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The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld a ruling that County Executive Ike Leggett violated the county code when he refused to fully fund salary increases awarded to county unions by independent arbitrators in 2011.
The court rejected Leggett's argument that he was not legally bound by county law that requires binding arbitration when labor negotiations cannot come to an agreement.
Despite Leggett's loss in court, he will not have to retroactively pay the raises to police, firefighters and other county employees.

Fire and Rescue Services had 333 overtime hours paid per employee -- which works out to almost 32 days of overtime pay over the normal 48-hour week. The department had the most employees who worked 1,000 or more hours of overtime -- 172 of the department's 1,121 workers.

Assistant Fire Chief Scott Graham did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

The Office of Legislative Oversight report says the department could reduce its overtime if it kept better track of employee leave.

Overall, the report shows about 83 percent of the 5,605 employees in the seven departments logged overtime hours between January 2011 and June 2012.

Fire and Rescue Services, the Department of Transportation and the Montgomery County Police Department had the most employees who worked overtime. DOT employees took an average of 363 hours per employee -- about 367,232 total -- and police took an average of 389 hours per employee -- about 565,900 hours.

Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville, said has was concerned about what proposed 13.5 percent raises for county workers would mean for future overtime costs. Contracts with police, fire and the teachers union are ongoing.

He said the county needs to further understand the patterns of employee time-off to better calculate what the new contracts might cost in overtime hours.

"We need to understand those costs," he said. "Because they're certainly in the millions."