Money is Tight:Fire Department Overtime Budget Likely to Soar Again

By Seth Daniel

The Chelsea Fire Department overtime budget – long a bone of contention with City officials – is likely to soar again this year over budget despite a $1.372 million reimbursement from the state for overtime costs related to the closure of the Washington Avenue Bridge.

Acting on an order from Councillor Leo Robinson, City Manager Tom Ambrosino provided a running count of overtime costs amassed by the Fire Department in a letter last month.

He reported that the Fire Department General Fund Overtime Account will be more than $400,000 in deficit based on current projections for this year’s budget. That deficit comes despite state reimbursements of $1.37 million for a fourth engine pump company at Central Fire Station to accommodate the closing of the Washington Avenue Bridge – a fourth engine that was expected to reduce overtime costs significantly.

The latest overtime deficit news comes one year after the Fire Department ran up a budget deficit of more than $1 million, spending some $1.8 million in overtime costs last year and more than $80,000 in differential pay for rank “step-ups” that occurred because numerous officers were out on long-term injury. The budget last year was set at $800,000.

Fire Department personnel and union officials have long said they use so much overtime because they are understaffed. The staffing of the Department is at around 88 firefighters.

The Chelsea Police overtime budget this year, on the other hand, looks to be on budget.

The overtime budget for the Fire Department this year was at $900,000.

Ambrosino said he looks to rein in the overtime situation at the Fire Department once he chooses his new Fire Chief, expected in the next two months.

“I understand the Fire Department overtime has been running deficits for the past few years, and this year is no exception,” he wrote. “I am hopeful that, working with a permanent chief, which I expect to announce sometime within the next 60 days, we may be able, over the course of the next year or two, to consider some changes to curtail overtime needs. One thing I am considering is the hiring of an additional firefighter or two in order to take some edge off overtime needs. While I have made no final decision in that direction, you may see a personnel increase my proposed…budget.”

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