January 26, 2005 -- Firefighters earned more in overtime last year than any other group of city workers, according to a study released yesterday. The Independent Budget Office reported that the city's 11,260 firefighters topped the OT charts in fiscal 2004 with an average of $11,468 each.
The average OT for all uniformed employees was $10,069. Total overtime for the Fire Department actually went down, from $157.4 million in 2003 to $129.4 million.
With a top base salary of $54,048, the average veteran firefighter earned $65,516 last year.
But that's little solace to a force that hasn't had a contract since July 2002 and that union leaders say has lagged for years behind suburban counterparts.
Overtime citywide hit $852.9 million in 2004, as the city workforce grew slightly from 294,191 to 296,591 as of June 30, 2004.
Uniformed agencies accounted for most of the tab, $640 million - up $30 million.
Fiscal monitors frequently cite the growing overtime tab as one worrisome aspect of the city's $50 billion budget.
But Andrew Joseph, the retired deputy comptroller for budget, said overtime can be a useful management tool - if it's properly budgeted.
"You want to be able to react to special conditions, such as sanitation this past weekend," he pointed out, referring to services during the snowstorm.
IBO spokesman Doug Turetsky called the OT issue more complicated than it might appear.
"You've got to get behind what's driving it," he said. "When you have a World Economic Forum and a [presidential] convention, it's going to drive up overtime. You have to look at what's controllable and what's not."
He added that in some cases "it may actually be cheaper to have someone work on overtime than to hire an additional worker to whom you're going to have to pay benefits."
Fringe benefits - especially pensions - shot up last year to the point where it cost the city $81,307 on average for each worker.
But only $56,414 was attributable to wages and overtime. Health and other benefits accounted for $16,565 and pensions added another $8,328.
The city's workforce grew because of civilian hires, largely by the Human Resources Administration that hired several hundred workers who had been employed by its contractors.
The combined uniformed forces - police, firefighters, correction officers and sanitation workers - remained virtually constant between 2003 and 2004.
The overall workforce was still smaller than in 2001, when Mayor Bloomberg took office.