TX Mayor Has Fire, Police Overtime on Agenda
Houston Chronicle via YellowBrix
April 21, 2010
HOUSTON, TX – Overtime pay for police and firefighters cost Houston taxpayers $67 million last year, including 714 employees who each earned $20,000 or more, and four officers who pulled down more than $100,000.
A Houston Chronicle analysis shows that most of the money — $50 million — went to the Houston Police Department, long bedeviled by staffing shortages while trying to cover the nation’s fourth largest city. At the Houston Fire Department, the cost was $17 million, largely for the same reasons.
“We’re going to have to be more efficient,” said newly-installed Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland.
The hefty price tag for the city’s fire and police department overtime will be among those scrutinized when Mayor Annise Parker and her chiefs huddle this year to try to cover an expected $100 million citywide deficit.
“Overtime’s definitely on the table,” Parker said.
The costs are down from the previous year when HPD spent $51 million on overtime and HFD about $18 million.
Nearly all of the top 25 earners of HPD overtime worked in patrol or traffic divisions with the top earner who works in vehicular enforcement, getting $127,014 in overtime.
Overtime defenders say the extra pay allows Houston officers compensation for working overnight, then making it to traffic court the next day. Mayor’s concern
“The biggest part of overtime is court and holidays,” said Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union.
Still, some police officers earned nearly 60 percent of their salary in overtime and Parker would like overtime spending to be less lopsided.
“That needs to be spread more equitably,” Parker said. “It’s a concern to me when a single police officer earns a significant amount of overtime.”
In 2007, four police officers received more than $100,000 in overtime pay and at least 70 received more than $50,000. Two years later, four officers received more than $100,000 in overtime pay and 65 earned more than $50,000, according to city payroll records.
“My main focus is to make sure that every penny of overtime that an employee puts in for, that it’s earned,” Chief McClelland said. “So I have no problem with individual officers or employees earning overtime, whether someone thinks that’s a large amount.” Civilian solution
Union chief Blankinship said that as long as the police department is understaffed, the costs will continue.
“We are 2,000 police officers short,” he said. “That’s a conservative figure.”
One solution is to use more civilians for office or administrative tasks, freeing up more officers and firefighters, the mayor said.
“Yes, we would certainly like to do that,” McClelland said. “But one of the things that is contingent on, is we also have to have the funding to hire civilians.”
At the fire department, the greatest overtime earners are dispatchers, where there have been staffing shortages.
Of the top 25 overtime earners at the Houston Fire Department, 11 worked in the dispatch division with the chief dispatcher earning nearly $75,000 in overtime.
Fire Department spokesman Pat Trahan believes some of the overtime, particularly the OT clocked by communication officers, will decrease in the next year as new positions are filled there and certain positions are reassigned to civilian employees.
“The additional staff will help reduce overtime,” Trahan said. Sick, vacation time
Also, absenteeism, which forces others to work overtime, is being examined more carefully, he said.
“We have to be a little bit more stringent when a person asks for holiday time and how we provide that so we cover shifts,” Trahan said.
Another costly item is the banked sick and vacation time that can result in a hefty six-figure check for retiring police and firefighters.
Unlike many workers in the private sector, government workers can accumulate these unused benefits for years, even decades. When they retire, they collect “termination pay” checks, some nearing the $200,000 mark, depending how long they have been with the department and how many days were stored away. Union guarantees
In 2009, police employees received $1.6 million in accumulated vacation and sick time compared to HFD retirees who received $13.6 million.
Among firefighters, the largest termination paycheck went to a retiring district chief who joined the department in 1968. He received $187,136.68 last year.
The highest “term pay” check in the police department last year was for $88,811.78.
The accumulated pay is protected by existing contracts with the police and firefighter unions.