The Jersey City Council grilled members of the administration about the ongoing payroll issues during the first two pay periods of the new year during Monday’s caucus.
By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View
“I wanted to hear from payroll. I was told you hired a new director. Jimmy, you can bring us an update?” Council President Joyce Watterman asked.
“It’s a data entry issue. It starts with the previous payroll system we had. There’s a grievance that’s pending against the old payroll system. One of the unions filed that grievance in conjunction with the support of two or three of the other unions … to make sure we changed the system,” Deputy Human Resources Director Jimmy Carroll said.
They experienced many problems with the old payroll system last year, Carroll, a retired deputy police chief, added.
“A lot of the data, because of the corruption from the old system, basically created havoc as far the data in the new system,” he continued.
“We have collected over 300 employee complaints. By the end of the week, we should have it pretty much under control. We were very ambitious on how we wanted to roll out our program.”
Carroll noted Jersey City Business Administrator John Metro assigned more people to address the issue.
“We have two challenges we are confident we are going to work through this week. We’re looking at every single problem as it arises. You’re hearing the noise of what happening on payroll one. Payroll one was the biggest challenge,” he said.
Watterman asked about the qualifications and expertise of the nine people assigned to help out.
“This is basically a task force. We’re looking at each individual employee to make sure the record is correct,” Metro replied, also indicating that the members would each be assigned to their own department.
He also said it’s similar to a mirror: “once you put it in, it’s exactly what you get out.”
“Are they like part of payroll, HR? It seems like there is a disconnect. Is the right people at the table?” Watterman asked.
“With this new payroll director, she has a lot of experience. She’ll be able to assign them a task as they move forward. She also has some IT experience. She’s only been on the job three days,” Metro said.
Later, Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore asked for clarity on how the old system could have wiped out important information.
“Just disappeared, councilman. That was a problem of the old system. They basically had it structured … to only deal with a certain capacity of changes,” Carroll said.
“The company itself was having some internal problems. It became very difficult for us to deal with them. We would have to call in and get a ticket. We had to redo all those calculations.”
Watterman again asked for more details, since she has been getting a lot of calls from people who are living paycheck to check.
“That’s why we replaced the old system,” Metro answered.
“It wouldn’t be in-house IT. It was the vendor that had the issue, not us, and we never got a very explanation as to why it was doing it,” Carroll stated.
“Is this a people problem or a systems’ problem or both?” Gilmore asked.
Metro said it was a people problem, which is why he formed the task force, but Watterman still wasn’t satisfied.
“I want to know who’s on the task force. Sometimes it’s not the right people at the table,” Watterman said.
“When large numbers of changes are entered, it looks like bad actors. There were so many changes in such a little time it looked like bad behavior, which is why they didn’t apply those changes,” Information Technology (IT) Director Bernadette Kucharczuk said.
She said there was a cap to the level of changes that could be made at one time.
“So, they didn’t inform us,” Watterman answered.
“This was the previous system … and another reason we moved away from them. They had a standard. We had to re-enter them all,” Kucharczuk replied.
“The right people weren’t at the table to give them this information because now we had to readjust. The changes should have been normal to us,” Watterman said.
“Normally, they had to be contacted in advance of great changes,” Kucharczuk said.
“A failure on our part, I got it. We’re hiring them,” Watterman continued.
Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise asked if manually putting in for overtime would be considered to prevent errors from occurring in the future.
“It was a problem with the old system that has been replaced,” Kucharczuk responded.
Gilmore then pointed out that the council was told the payroll issues were resolved after the first check was issued, and then it happened again, so what steps are being taken to fix it.
“It was just way too ambitious,” Carroll said of the new system. “We’ve changed that. We’re dealing with the more tedious issues, and there’s about 300 to 350 of those. They’re time-consuming.”
He explained the task force is working with clerks to fix it.
“Second pay cycle was arguably a lot better. You’re still hearing the complaints from the first pay cycle. Public safety was where they had the biggest growing pains. We’re cleaning up the seeds of payroll one still,” Carroll said.
“How many more pay cycles do you anticipate?” Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh asked.
“As long as an employee’s completed and correct, they won’t have any future issues,” Metro answered.
Still, Watterman wanted to know why some employees didn’t have all their hours carry over.
“That was a miscommunication in our office. We’re identifying proper procedures and protocols. There were clerical errors we’ve adjusted with the staff,” Carroll said.
“Where are you at with making sure all the employees that were not paid in full are compensated?” Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey asked.
“We’re hoping by the end of Friday … we should have … most of those payroll one issues out of the way. And then we start focusing on payroll three,” Carroll said.
Metro added that the third payroll should be “close to perfect” after implementing all the new safeguards that had introduced.
“Does that also include any fees that were incurred?” Prinz-Arey said.
“They go through their appropriate department and union, and we’ll reimburse them,” Metro added.