City’s Overtime Surges, But Stays Below Some Prior High Years
A spike in overtime contributed to the city having 21 police officers and firefighters earning six figures last year, five more than the prior year, a Sunday Times analysis found.
Though overtime rose, it remained below prior highs that occurred before the city renegotiated police and firefighter labor contracts in 2015.
Citywide, across all departments, employees earned $1.4 million in overtime in 2017, a 20 percent increase over $1.17 million in 2016. That rise followed a 38 percent drop in citywide overtime in 2016.
The newspaper analyzed city employees’ earnings from records it received through a Right to Know Law request.
A wild card of sorts, overtime comes from various factors, including backfill staffing to cover retirements, weather events and firefighter deployments to out-of-area federal emergencies. Workers who amass overtime earn every penny, officials said.
Sixteen police officers and five firefighters earned six figures last year. In 2016, there were
15 who earned six figures, including 11 police officers and four firefighters.
That was down from 22 six-figure earners in 2015 — 14 police officers and eight firefighters. In 2014, there were 18 who earned $100,000, including 14 police officers and four firefighters.
The six-figure earners do not include department heads, who also do not receive overtime.
Police Chief Carl Graziano
earned $118,704 in 2017 and
Fire Chief Patrick DeSarno earned $67,228.
Police and firefighter pay generally far outpaces residents’ salaries. Scranton’s median household income is $37,551.
While Scranton remains, since 1992, designated as financially distressed under state Act 47, the city in recent years made significant recovery progress. It is poised to soon receive a green light out of Act 47 from program overseer Pennsylvania Economy League.
PEL Executive Director Gerald Cross said the city also made strides in managing overtime, which by its nature is unpredictable.
“It’s hard to hold a budget line item on overtime as if it was an exact science,” Cross said. “You budget to not under-budget expenses and I think the city has done that. Overtime is one of those things that’s hard to budget for, because you don’t have a crystal ball.”
In some cases, the city gets reimbursed for overtime from events involving outside entities, including road construction traffic details, parades, races and festivals, and outside emergency responses.
The police department had $162,000 in overtime in 2017 reimbursed from outside entities, while the fire department had about $100,000 reimbursed, officials said.
Those reimbursements, totaling $262,000, reduced the city’s out-of-pocket, or net, overtime to about $1.15 million. However, the city budgeted $1.015 million for net overtime in 2017. That means after reimbursements, the city came in over budget by $141,000 for overtime last year. That deviation was “manageable,” city Business Administrator David Bulzoni said.
Despite the overtime increase last year, officials attributed the overall decline after 2015 largely to the renegotiated police and firefighter labor contracts that year, which restructured operations and staffing and reduced sick days, a big driver of overtime.
Total wages, comprised of regular wages and overtime, increased 4 percent, or about $1.2 million, from $31.54 million in 2016 to $32.76 million.
A regular wage can include base salary, longevity pay, insurance buyback, clothing allowance and severance pay.
Police OT up 26 percent
Police overtime rose 26 percent, to $701,224 in 2017, up from $556,133 in 2016.
Though up last year, police overtime still came in below a record high of $1 million in 2014 and $893,053 in 2015.
The renegotiated police contract of 2015 contained incentives to not use sick days, including a higher payout of unused sick days upon retirement, to encourage employees not to call off.
Graziano attributed the overtime increase last year to backfilling shifts to cover for officers out on long-term illnesses and injuries, as well as mandatory active shooter response training of all officers.
“We’re up with injuries, without question, for 2017 and 2018,” Graziano said. “Ultimately, it trickles down to overtime.”
Officers out on long-term illnesses include two battling cancer, he said.
The mandatory training, taken on overtime hours, began last year and continued into this year, he said.
Though the training contributed to more overtime, it would have been higher had the department not done so much of it in-house, Graziano said.
In several cases, overtime contributed to six-figure salaries.
In 2017, Police Officer Robert Stelmak earned the most overtime in the police department — $27,509 for 583 overtime hours. Adding overtime to his base wages of $85,545 brings Stelmak’s gross wages earned to $113,053, or third-highest gross wages in the department.
Police Officer Robert Stanek earned the highest gross wages in the police department, as well as in the city — $121,869 — which included a base wage of $106,306 and overtime of $15,563. He earned the ninth-highest overtime in the police department, working 294 overtime hours.
Efforts to contact Stanek and Stelmak were unsuccessful.
Fire OT rises 20 percent
In the fire department, overtime rose 20 percent to $327,849 in 2017, up from $273,021 in 2016. The overtime increase came after overtime fell 44 percent in 2016.
In 2017, the top paid firefighter was John Judge, with total wages of $121,554, comprised of $91,396 in regular wages and $30,158 in overtime.
Judge declined to comment.
That overtime amount was the highest in both the fire department and among all city departments. Judge earned overtime while deployed under extended Federal Emergency Management Agency responses to a pair of hurricanes in the South. Those deployments were fully reimbursed by FEMA.
While the city classifies such FEMA response as overtime, it actually was not overtime paid by city taxpayers, Deputy Fire Chief Al Lucas said. The city also gets a 15 percent administrative fee on FEMA reimbursements, Lucas said.
The fire department also decided to incur overtime as a means to keep the Truck Company 4 station at 1047 N. Main Ave. open 90 percent of the time, he said.
Weather hikes DPW OT
The $353,000 in Department of Public Works overtime last year was mostly because of inclement weather and was a 14 percent increase from 2016, up from $309,460.
“You have storms and that requires the deployment of DPW” on overtime shifts, Bulzoni said.
Previously, DPW overtime decreased 3 percent in 2016, or $10,207, from $319,677 in 2015.
In 2017, longtime DPW employee Gene Reed had the highest overtime in the DPW, $25,642. Adding that overtime to his base wage of $46,405 gave Reed gross wages of $72,047, the highest gross wage in the DPW.
Efforts to contact Reed were unsuccessful.
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