Overtime eating into fire budget

With at least nine months left to go in the 2005-06 fiscal year ending June 30 the Warwick Fire Department has spent $463,932.94 on overtime from one of two accounts, or 66.3-percent of the $700,000 budget. In another account, firefighter overtime has drained $244,964.39, or 46.7 percent of $525,000 budgeted.
Based on figures supplied by City Treasurer David Olsen, the amounts reflect two separate overtime accounts in the Fire Department budget — one known as Fire I (employees that were hired prior to 1992), and Fire II (employees hired since 1992).
Overtime remains a serious issue for the department to address, their senior leadership attempting to hire and train recruits to fill open slots created by retirees as fast as veteran firefighters are leaving.
According to city Personnel Director Oscar Shelton there are 218 positions budgeted for in the fire department's current fiscal year budget.
Since July 1, eight firefighters have retired, four of those with 30 years on the job, now receiving 80-percent of their annual income once they left work thanks to a pension reimbursement deal Mayor Scott Avedisian penned with the union after reaching a tentative 3-year contract agreement in February. The City Council last week moved forward with a threat to sue the administration in court, seeking a temporary restraining order to keep Avedisian from allowing the 80-percent reimbursement to continue. The reason, argued the 8-to-1 majority in favor of the court action, is that the mayor had not submitted the obligatory ordinance requiring a city council vote before increasing the pension payment although prior administrations had also failed to gain council approval before a contract agreement.
Next month, 14 members of the department's 2005 recruit class are expected to graduate from the latest training academy, and whether or not all of them are hired rests with a decision from Avedisian.
In the 2004-05 fiscal year, the Fire Department had $600,000 in the Fire I overtime account, $100,000 less than this year, yet they spent $1,325,086.27 — 120.8-percent over their available funding, more than double what had been budgeted. And the Fire II overtime account had $400,000, $125,000 less than this year, but the department paid out $580,268.12 in expenses — 45.1-percent more than what was budgeted.
"It doesn't come as a surprise to me," reacted City Council President Donald Torres (D-Ward 2), who voted in favor of the last two municipal budgets where the council trimmed line item funding to pay for fire department overtime.
"It was inevitable this was going to happen," Torres said on Tuesday, explaining the council's position to cut departmental spending across city government in recent budgets, in part he said to support a consensus among his colleagues that the Republican-led administration needed to be more fiscally conservative in tough economic times, and also to reduce the rising tax burden on homeowners. But, Torres acknowledged, given current fire department union contractual obligations that require specific staffing levels be maintained at all times it's impossible for the council or any other authority to place restrictions on their overtime expenses.
Before the council adopted the current budget earlier this summer, Torres said Fire Chief Jack Chartier originally submitted a request to the administration for $1,300,000 to cover anticipated costs in the Fire I account, and $750,000 for Fire II. Mayor Avedisian, Torres continued, didn't change Chartier's request for Fire I when the final budget package was sent to the council, but trimmed $150,000 from the line item for Fire II. When both items were reviewed by the council, Fire I was cut $600,000, and Fire II $75,000.
In the 2004-05 fiscal year, covering a period from July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005, the top five overtime earners for the Warwick Fire Department included the following — none of them rank and file:
• Battalion Chief David DelVecchio, 741 hours of overtime, worth $37,937.85. DelVecchio's regular salary was $78,901.20, giving him a combined income with overtime for one year of $116,839.05.
• Battalion Chief Edmund Armstrong, 736 hours of overtime, worth $37,633.25. Armstrong's regular salary was $79,649.86, giving him a combined income with overtime for one year of $117,283.11.
• Battalion Chief Paul St. Jean, 616 hours of overtime, worth $31,558.22. St. Jean's regular salary was $79,649.86, giving him a combined income with overtime for one year of $111,208.08.
• Battalion Chief Stephen Hay, 602 hours of overtime, worth $30,816.77. Hay's regular salary was $79,649.86, giving him a combined income with overtime for one year of $110,466.63, and,
• Lt. Thomas Maymon, 721 hours of overtime, worth $30,040.98. Maymon's regular salary was $64,189.53, giving him a combined income with overtime for one year of $94,230.51.
In the first 13 weeks of this fiscal year, spanning a period from July 1 to last Friday, Warwick Fire Department officers have already begun to rack up significant overtime, and earned extra pay as a result. They include:
• Rescue Capt. Joseph Pfeifer, 262 hours of overtime, worth $12,099.96. Pfeifer's regular salary is $71,696.56.
• Capt. David Morse, 254 hours of overtime, worth $11,622.99. Morse's regular salary is $72,376.72.
• Lt. James Kenney, 250 hours of overtime, worth $10,653.18. Kenney's regular salary is $66,653.18.
• Lt. Michael Clark, 250.5 hours of overtime, worth $10,782.69. Clark's regular salary is $65,175.24.
• Capt. Steven Bonn, 244 hours of overtime, worth $11,256. Bonn's regular salary is $72,376.72.
None of the calculations take into account the cost of city-paid medical and dental coverage, less applicable employee contributions based on the current, if only tentative union contract agreement.
While Torres suggested it is a simple practice of good management to control overtime in non-emergency situations, he added that command staff at the fire department has little choice when personnel are sick or injured to find necessary replacements, charged with the task of preserving public safety.
Still, Torres expressed continued frustration that year after year the department's overtime expenses ballooned past budgeted amounts, noting that towards the end of the fiscal period the administration would utilize a common practice of transferring funds from one account to another or from one department to another to make the ledgers balance.
Chief Chartier did not return a phone call from the Beacon seeking comment on the matter.
"There is an amount budgeted for overtime," Avedisian said in a statement, "there is no other money available for this use and I have no magical pot of money waiting to cover such costs."


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