Overtime expenses of the Ceres Fire Department are greater than first reported, sending city officials on a plan to minimize the final impact heading toward the end of the fiscal year in June.
City officials have been grappling with overtime expenses of the police department with members of the City Council concerned about impacts to the city's general fund. At a meeting held in January, Acting City Manager Art deWerk, who is also director of the Public Safety Department, reported to the council that the fire department was only 41 percent into its allotted overtime expenses halfway into the fiscal year.
But after chewing over the numbers, it was learned that fire department overtime used up 87.75 percent of its budget 50 percent of the way into the spending plan. The overtime was caused by leave of battalion chiefs, vacations, sick leave, the Family Medical Leave Act, an injury and 1,089 hours fighting the Rim Fire. The overtime cost came to $312,385.
DeWerk explained that some of those costs are lessened by $59,363 from the state to fight the Rim Fire, the savings of $27,000 from not filling a vacant engineer position, and $99,000 in salary saved from an injured firefighter. That whittles the overtime expense down to $185,363.
DeWerk said that if overtime expenditures continue status quo, overtime will end up approximately $200,000 over-expended.
"However, with our plans to reduce the number of vacant shift backfills, a curtailment in training, and no unforeseen staffing changes or major incidents that may increase overtime, the overage will more likely be approximately $160,000," said deWerk. "With the transfers of the aforementioned offsets and vacant positions savings, the actual projected overtime excess will, at most, be $40,000. That amount may also be eradicated through day-to-day management of overtime-generating situations."
The chief also is looking into a possible policy decision of not backing-filling a vacant position when two are off during the same shift. This option would require the Fire Department to revert back to a two-person engine company at times and/or browning out a fire station by moving remaining personnel to the other three stations.
"Although this is a drastic step - and one that could have firefighter safety implication - it is one that should be considered as an alternative. Staff is researching how this change might impact the SAFER grant-funded positions."