San Francisco Fire Department mistakes lead to extra pay for employees 

As the Fire Department was discussing brownouts and other drastic cost-saving measures last year, it was also overpaying its employees and making accounting errors to the tune of $345,565, according to city Controller Ben Rosenfield.

About $150,000 of that went to high-ranking and administrative employees who cashed in on their vacation and sick pay when they retired, according to a report released Tuesday. Those calculations were based on a firefighter who works a 48-hour week, but they were given to administrators who have a base 40-hour week.

That amounts to about $6,500 per employee that retired. In one case, a former firefighter who worked at department headquarters received a $154,403 payout when they should have received $147,251.

Another $146,328 was given to firefighters and medical personnel who do work at fire stations because their vacation pay was calculated without any formal policy in place, according to the report.

The report comes as The City faces a $380 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts in July. Layoffs and brownouts are likely to come up again when Mayor Ed Lee submits his budget proposal.

But these issues come as no surprise, fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said. Many were pointed out in an earlier report by former Controller Ed Harrington. Changes were never made because the policy was never changed.

Those who were eventually promoted or sent to administrative roles had already spent “years and years” at the fire stations, Hayes-White said.

“Many were arguing that there shouldn’t be a penalty for coming down to headquarters,” she said.

But other findings show that incompetence and faulty paperwork cost the department money. The department’s manual process to record time entries caused an estimated $44,856 in overpayments to employees, the report said.

In some cases, firefighters were actually underpaid for premium time — a higher rate of pay based on hazardous assignments, driving a fire engine, holiday pay, experience and other factors.

The department is not likely to get back the one-time retiree overpayments, but the report includes 31 recommendations for the future, including that the department “cease unofficial retirement adjustments until a formal standard is developed for calculating payments.”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

Expense sheet

$207.9 million: Firefighter salaries in 2009-10
$18.8 million: Premium pay for firefighters
63: SFFD retirees in 2009-10
$3.6 million: Disbursements to those retirees

Source: Controller’s Office

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Brent Begin

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