Overtime is taxing problem in Boca
As hours add up, so do the worries about cost, fatigue
By Luis F. Perez
Posted July 31 2005
Boca Raton fire Lt. Kenneth Bailes normally works one 24-hour shift and is off for the next three days.
But last year, he worked almost 800 extra hours during his off time and brought his base $84,600 salary to $122,700.
In 2004, fire Lt. David Woodside saw his $88,000 salary go to $123,200. Fire Lt. Norman Engel made an extra $31,500 on top of his $86,300 salary.
Fire Chief Bruce Silk? He earned $115,543. In fact, seven officers in the department earned more than the chief when overtime pay is added.
Firefighters aren't the only ones making tens of thousands of dollars in overtime. Police Officer Mohammed "Ray" Reissi worked 1,492 overtime hours and brought his $56,400 base pay to $117,200. Only Police Chief Andrew Scott made more, $118,300.
A South Florida Sun-Sentinel analysis of the city's 2003 and 2004 payrolls shows municipal workers made $8.5 million in overtime. The overtime has been paid out in the past two years as civic leaders have watched the city's coffers fattened by increases in property values.
Nonetheless, Boca Raton residents may be asked to shell out almost 5 percent more in property taxes next fiscal year to cover a shortfall caused, in large part, by paying firefighters. In fact, the city manager proposed adding 13 new firefighters to next year's payroll.
City officials have said residents can expect to pay more in fees or property taxes, or both, and possibly see cuts in services to cover projected budget shortfalls as far out as 2009. They also plan on instituting a fire-rescue assessment fee.
Police and fire-rescue earned the lion's share of overtime, with 27 firefighters earning enough overtime last year to put them over $100,000.
The analysis also showed Boca Raton residents are paying more for at least 15 extra firefighters, according to an estimate by the union president, to work a schedule that puts them on for 24 hours and then off for 72, giving them ample opportunity to work extra hours. Most fire departments schedule firefighters on for 24 hours, and then off for 48.
If those extra firefighters earn the 2004 average salary of $65,700, Boca Raton taxpayers are paying an extra $985,500 a year, not counting benefits, to cover four 24-hour shifts instead of three.
Jim Harms, fire chief in Grand Blanc, Mich., and second vice president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said he has never heard of a department with Boca Raton's schedule.
City Manager Leif Ahnell and other city officials have said paying fire-rescue, and to a lesser extent police, salary and benefits is putting a strain on the city budget. In fact, it cost the city more to run fire and police services than it collects in property taxes.
In addition, experts say, firefighters and police working too much overtime can put public safety at risk.
"Fatigue is one of the most dangerous factors on the job," said Rich Roberts, a spokesman for the International Union of Police Associations.
Police Chief Scott and Fire Chief Silk said safeguards are in place to make sure public-safety employees don't put in too much time, and they defended the city's overtime practice. They said it is less expensive to pay overtime than to hire new employees.
A total of 30 employees in the police and fire departments, which have about 400 employees, worked 500 hours or more of overtime last year, the equivalent of a 15-month year.
By comparison, among Delray Beach's top overtime earners in fire and police, eight worked more than 500 hours. Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, which has about 1,200 employees, paid 30 firefighters more than 500 hours in overtime last year, much of it due to the hurricanes.
Boca Raton employees also put in extra hours last year as a result of hurricanes. However, in 2003, a year that saw no such storms, the city paid $3.6 million in overtime to its workers. Twenty-five employees in police and fire-rescue services each put in 500 hours or more of overtime. The city paid $4.9 million in overtime in 2004.
In general, the city analyzes all overtime and compares it to hiring full-time employees, said Mayor Steven Abrams.
As long as it's cheaper to pay existing employees overtime, the city manager permits it," he said.
Even so, fire-rescue's schedule became an issue in May during the city's goal-setting session, when Development Services Director Jorge Camejo questioned whether a traditional schedule could save money.
Fire-rescue Battalion Chief Jerry Cochrane, president of firefighters union Local 1560, said that although the fire-rescue schedule costs more, it benefits residents who are willing to pay more for it.
He estimated Boca Raton has 15 extra firefighters to cover four shifts, instead of three. Also, city officials said, the schedule is not related to overtime.
"It was more efficient for us to operate on an overtime basis than a full-time basis until we got the [new] stations built," Silk said, referring to new fire stations recently completed.
Fire-rescue's schedule, which was instituted 28 years ago in contract negotiations, is a recruiting tool, helps morale and is more efficient for training, Cochrane said. The department's contract runs through Sept. 30. The four-shift schedule is not an issue in ongoing contract negotiations, Cochrane and city officials said.
Fire-rescue's large amount of overtime in recent years stemmed not from its schedule, but from a City Council policy decision to staff temporary fire stations by paying extra to existing employees, Cochrane said. At one point, three temporary fire stations were staffed using overtime while two new stations were under construction using voter-approved borrowing.
Now that Stations No. 7 and No. 8 are up and running and with new hires coming on board, the overtime has been reduced dramatically, city officials said. Cochrane said recently he has earned about $1,500 this year in overtime. In 2003 and 2004, he earned $47,000 and $22,000, respectively, in overtime, on top of his $93,000 salary.
Silk said department policy is that firefighters can't work more than 48 hours straight without taking 24 hours off. There is no such policy for police.
City Council members said there is talk about some operational changes in fire/rescue that would reduce the need for overtime. Council member Susan Haynie said maybe the city should conduct an audit of overtime paid to employees and review its policy. The majority of council members said it's the city manager's and department leaders' responsibility to manage employees' schedules and compensation.
If the city eliminated its overtime last year and provided residents the same level of service with full-time employees, Ahnell said, it would have cost the city much more than the $5 million spent in overtime. He couldn't say how much more.
Silk, Ahnell and Cochrane said the four-shift schedule may cost more, but Boca Raton residents get superior service in return.
"There are a lot of things that are above and beyond," Cochrane said about fire/rescue services. "And people don't mind paying for it."
Luis F. Perez can be reached at email@example.com or 561-243-6641.
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Thread: Overtime adds up in Boca Raton
08-07-2005, 10:15 PM #1
Overtime adds up in Boca Raton09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
"Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.
02-03-2013, 11:50 PM #2
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- Jan 2013
02-04-2013, 07:53 AM #3Jim Harms, fire chief in Grand Blanc, Mich., and second vice president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said he has never heard of a department with Boca Raton's schedule."The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY
02-04-2013, 08:31 AM #4
- Join Date
- Nov 2009
hire more people??? is that cheaper???
02-04-2013, 01:57 PM #5
Article was written 7, almost 8 years ago. Hope they found some solution!"This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?
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