EFR’s firefighter overtime funds are running out

November 17, 2009

By J.B. Wogan

Overtime for firefighters is likely to go over budget.The news isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds, as Eastside Fire & Rescue has additional funds set aside that can cover overtime.

But this year’s high amount of overtime foils an administrative plan within EFR to curb costs wherever possible. The EFR board of directors approved $600,000 for overtime in 2009, but when firefighters’ salaries and benefits ended up being higher than anticipated, the agency pulled $120,000 out of the overtime funds to pay the difference.

The agency has a requirement for a minimum number of firefighters to be working at any given time. As a result, when someone is out for an extended period, due to injury, sickness or family leave, another qualified person must take up the extra hours.

Earlier in the year, EFR promoted a lieutenant to floating captain, creating a versatile position that could fill a number of different kinds of vacancies without using overtime. For the first three months after the change came into effect, EFR spent $191,939 less on overtime than the year before.

The trend didn’t last. Jeff Griffin, deputy fire chief for EFR, submitted a report Nov. 10 indicating overtime funds had whittled away to $18,859. Overtime costs for October were $69,616, compared to $50,756 in October 2008. In September, overtime was $50,803, compared to $38,237 in September 2008.

In a Nov. 10 report, Fire Chief Lee Soptich pointed to a higher than normal number of unscheduled leave demands related to the flu, disabilities and expanding families.

Soptich said the agency would probably have to find an additional $60,000 to cover overtime in November and December.

“We are concerned that there are no other places in the budget where we can adjust to meet this need,” Soptich wrote.

In his report, Soptich discussed the possibility of not using overtime to fill firefighter positions, but he added that “staffing reductions very quickly equate to service level reductions.”

In an interview after the Nov. 10 meeting, Griffin said that the overtime situation was looking better since he and Soptich wrote up their reports to the EFR board. In doing a line-by-line analysis of the budget, he said EFR staff members think they can find a way to squeeze out enough saved money to cover the additional overtime needs.

“We’re not going back to the partners for more money this year, I don’t believe,” he said.

J.B. Wogan: 392-6434, ext. 247, or jbwogan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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