Departments’ overtime may cost city big bucks

Despite a call from Mayor Gavin Newsom for fiscal belt-tightening, four of The City’s six largest overtime spenders requested more overtime funds — totaling more than $100 million — for next fiscal year.

The “Big Six” — Municipal Transportation Agency, police and fire departments, Public Health, the Sheriff’s Office and the Public Utilities Commission — typically make up roughly 90 percent of The City’s overtime budget in a given year, according to city data.

The Fire Department, MTA, PUC and Sheriff’s Office all submitted budget requests last week that include overtime costs for fiscal year 2008-09 that exceed what the Board of Supervisors approved for the departments for this year, according to data from the City Controller’s Office.

The agency that asked for the most substantial increase for overtime was the San Francisco Fire Department, which has a minimum staffing requirement approved by voters in 2004. The department asked for $27.1 million to spend on overtime, more than double the $12.9 million approved for its overtime for the current fiscal year, according to data from the City Controller’s Office.

Fire Lt. Mindy Talmadge said there were multiple reasons why the Fire Department’s overtime funding request jumped considerably for the coming fiscal year, including a newly negotiated raise that would also bump up the costs of overtime.

Another reason for the overtime included an unexpected number of retirements from the department — about 40 more than expected, Talmadge said.

The mayor said although he “could never defend overtime versus a program as a trade-off” during budget negotiations, he added that he would “defend public safety and guaranteeing that our Fire Department is fully staffed and ready for an emergency.”

“I think this is an honest assessment about what they think their budget will look like and then we’ll work together to figure it out,” Newsom said.

The Department of Public Health asked for approximately $11.2 million in overtime funding, exactly what was approved last year. The Police Department was the only agency of the six to ask for less — about a $540,000 cut — from the $20.8 million in overtime funding approved last year, according to the data, although a police representative said the request was preliminary and would likely increase.

The PUC requested an additional $357,000 from the $3.2 million approved for overtime spending this year because of large scheduled projects related to the Hetch Hetchy water system rebuild, according to spokesman Tyrone Jue.

Muni, according to agency spokesman Judson True, uses overtime to fill in for the lack of operators. For the current fiscal year, the agency had an approved overtime budget of $30.6 million.

The Sheriff’s Office asked for more overtime spending because the prison population has increased dramatically during the last six months, Sheriff Michael Hennessey said.

This year, the department had an approved budget of $6.7 million. The agency has asked for an additional $292,488 in overtime spending for next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Expenses grow under Newsom

With The City facing a projected $233 million budget deficit next year, Mayor Gavin Newsom called on city departments to cut back on overtime expenses by properly managing staffing levels and mitigating potential abuses.

The mayor made a similar call in 2005, but overtime as a percentage of total salaries for city employees has grown every year under Newsom — from 4.9 percent in FY 2004-05 to a projected 6.8 percent in 2007-08 — according to the City Controller’s Office.

Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said overtime would not have increased under the mayor if it were not for staffing requirements that, in the case of the San Francisco Fire Department, made it more “cost-effective” to cover shifts in local firehouses with the extended pay.

Overtime is not “inherently” bad if it is managed “effectively and appropriately,” Newsom told The Examiner on Wednesday. He said that he was most interested in receiving an “honest assessment” from the recently submitted department budgets.

“I want to make sure they have the resources to continue the job, but we need to manage our overtime more effectively, unquestionably, including the Fire Department,” Newsom said.

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