CITY GOVERNMENT: A solvable problem


Mayor John Peyton's business acumen faces a test in the sick calls problem confronting the fire service.

The Times-Union's Steve Patterson reported that costs for bogus sick calls by firefighters over the last three years could total up to $2.2 million.

The sick calls peak during college football season, especially when the University of Florida Gators happen to be playing at home.

Weekend sick calls resulted in almost 25,000 hours of work lost last year. City-paid overtime for replacements costs the city an average of $30.09 an hour.

The Times-Union said a review of fire department records recorded since October 2000 indicates that probably 30 percent of the week- end sick calls involved hooky, or poor timing at the least.

Fire Chief Rick Barrett said new software should help the department spot abuse. In the past, some firefighters have been reprimanded or transferred because of their unreliability.

But firefighters note that staffing is a factor. Although provisions in three plans vary, firefighters are entitled to a certain amount of paid leave each year.

Overtime is a necessity because there aren't enough personnel to cover for everyone who has vacation or leave time to use, and firefighters do not want to jeopardize any unused leave time.

Barrett is trying to relieve some of the problem by increasing the number of people allowed off.

Supervisors can also make a greater effort to check on whether those who call in sick truly are not abusing the system.

But the entire subject stands to be reviewed thoroughly. Answers should lie somewhere between increasing manpower levels and limiting the amount of leave time.

The business executive-turned- mayor should be able to find the balance point, with the able help of the City Council.