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MontCo's fire, transportation agencies rack up huge overtime

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

Montgomery County's fire and transportation departments both blew through more than 90 percent of their allotted overtime budgets in the first half of the fiscal year, county data show.

Together, the Fire and Rescue Service and Department of Transportation are on track to spend nearly $28 million on overtime in fiscal 2012, 90 percent more than budgeted, according to the data from CountyStat, Montgomery County's data analysis arm.

Officials in both departments attributed the high overtime spending to insufficient staffing.

How the spending stacks up
 Fire and Rescue ServiceDepartment of Transportation
Fiscal 2012 overtime budget$10.7 million$4.0 million
Overtime spending to date$9.7 million$3.6 million
Projected overtime spending$17.4 milion$10.4 million
Employees earning 51-75% of salary in overtime8542
Employes earning more than 76% of salary in overtime1512
Total employees1,1931,258
*Includes the first 29 weeks of fiscal 2012, roughly to the end of the second quarter.
Source: Montgomery County CountyStat

In the fire department-- which regularly pays out the most in overtime -- many of the vacancies are in higher-paying positions, which exacerbates the problem, said Fire Chief Richard Bowers. When a captain or a master firefighter is out sick, someone of equal rank needs to fill in, which means shelling out a higher amount of overtime pay.

Though the department currently has two recruit classes, the vacancies cannot be filled immediately, Bowers said, so the county might not see a reduction in overtime spending until the first or second quarter of fiscal 2013.

Most of the vacancies in the Department of Transportation are Ride On bus drivers, and the department is working to fill them, said department Director Arthur Holmes.

Drivers' overtime could be avoided, said Gino Renne, president of the county's Municipal and County Government Employees Organization.

"There used to be a reasonable cadre of substitute drivers, and a few years ago, in their infinite wisdom, [county officials] decided to eliminate those positions," Renne said. "Those positions were designed to avoid overtime."

In both departments, the same employees are earning most of the overtime. One hundred Fire and Rescue Service employees and 54 Department of Transportation employees earned more than half the value of their salaries in overtime, the data show. Of those, 15 employees in Fire and Rescue and 12 employees in Transportation earned 76 percent or more of their salaries in overtime. Both departments have more than 1,000 workers.

"There's something wrong with our staffing if one individual has to work that much overtime," Chief Administrative Officer Tim Firestine said. "At some point, there's a productivity issue."

Officials also attributed the extra overtime payments to leave practices that have been negotiated with the county's unions.

For example, current policy allows an employee to work less than 40 hours in a week -- maybe because of a sick day -- and still earn overtime pay for extra hours worked, which Firestine said does not make sense and will be brought up in the next round of collective bargaining.

But the policy, in place "since the beginning of time," is not the reason for additional overtime, Renne said. Instead, the county should blame "this administration's continued reduction of the work force."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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