Department overspends; council bars overtime

By CHRIS JACKETT
Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – A resolution by the City Council has barred the Fire Department from authorizing overtime pay for the rest of the fiscal year.

The decision came after the department spent $80,000 on overtime pay in July when just $5,000 was authorized for the fiscal year that runs from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011. The department spent more than $200,000 in overtime pay during each of the past two fiscal years.

“We’re not replacing guys with overtime because we were over budget,” Deputy Fire Chief Douglas LaFond said. “It was just unforeseen things that came up. Currently, we’re not authorizing overtime.”

The reason for the inflated overtime spending is short staffing. After the department’s chief, two captains and a grant writer took early retirements last month and a sergeant was injured on the job, the department has had others work extra hours to take care of those staff members’ workloads.

“A lot of the guys have been stepping up, canceling vacation time,” LaFond said.

Many throughout the department had been working overtime to keep the department fully staffed with seven firefighters on every shift. However, the July 30 resolution took effect Aug. 2 and resulted in the department laying off nine firefighters exactly one week later, on Aug. 9.

The layoffs ended up lasting less than 48 hours before all nine firefighters were called back to work the evening of Aug. 10. With a temporary staff of 17 firefighters, the Fire Department was 11 below the full staff level available less than two months ago.

Because of the combination of nine layoffs and the overtime ban, the seven-member staffing requirement is impossible to meet, LaFond said. On Aug. 10, the department had four firefighters on duty during the day.

Such a “test” caused the seven-person requirement to become a six-person requirement under the new contracts, which were agreed upon Aug. 10.

The new contract between Firefighters Local 1410 and the city took about $800,000 out of the department’s $3.3 million budget. Additionally, all employees promoted to a higher rank also took a pay freeze, and clauses were waived both for increased pay for sergeant designees and 7 percent “rescue pay” bonuses.

Under the previous contract, firefighters would see a single-day rescue pay increase if they were scheduled to drive a fire truck or if they were designated as sergeant for a shift when one was unavailable.

The contract was approved by a 5-2 council vote Aug. 10, with Mayor Gary Burtka and Councilman Kevin Rourke dissenting.

Police Chief Dean Tamsen also was recently reclassified as the city’s public safety director in order to fill the role vacated by former Fire Chief Mark Hogrebe, but was on vacation all week and unavailable for comment.

City Administrator Eric Waidelich did not respond to messages seeking comment on the changes within the Fire Department or the union contract.

(Contact Chris Jackett at cjackett@bewickpublications.com)

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