City Councillors may often be at odds on certain issues, but Monday night every councillor was on board with an official call to Acting Fire Chief Robert Houghton to come up with a plan to fix the broken fire overtime budget.
The call came just two weeks after the Council learned in a subcommittee meeting that the Fire Department Overtime budget this year had doubled – meaning that the original budget of $818,000 has increased to $1.635 million.
“We talked at that meeting about why,” said Councillor Dan Cortell. “There were answers given, but we are requesting that the acting chief provide us a proposal to address this in the future and to control the overtime spending.”
Councillor Cliff Cunningham said he would like to see a reform plan that doesn’t include more than 10 percent of the overall budget being spent on overtime.
“I think the overtime situation is outrageous and unsustainable,” he said. “It has been a problem each of the four years I’ve been up here and was an issue before I was here. It is worse than ever this year. This is a problem this year that I do’t think the City Council can ignore anymore…I personally would rather see the city manager and fire department create a budget and adhere to it that is 10 percent of the full total budget as the Matrix Study has suggested.”
Councillor Calvin Brown suggested that within the proposal the acting fire chief allow for a quarterly report to the Council on overtime spending.
“I believe the fire department should come back to us quarterly so we can see why this is escalating every year,” he said. “I know we had a tough winter, but if you look beyond those tough days with the snowfall, you see a lot of overtime is used in those times. A quarterly report would give us an opportunity to look at it before it gets as out of whack as it is.”
Councillor Joe Perlatonda said he has fiscal concerns regarding the overtime usage.
“I know we need the fire department to protect us, but the overtime they are using is eating the City’s free cash,” he said. “We can’t keep taking money out of free cash to subsidize the fire department overtime. If they don’t have enough staffing, then maybe we should look at that.”
Council President Leo Robinson said he would like to have the proposal in hand prior to budgetary hearings this spring, perhaps as early as next week.