Wednesday, December 14, 2005

City may use police funds to cover firefighter overtime costs

This sums up life in the city -- everyone suffers. City may use police funds to cover firefighter overtime costs Neither the firefighters nor the police are happy about it.

To rob Peter to pay Paul is no way to live. They do this on Grant Street all the time. They think it is fine. I don't agree with these types of practices.

Manage the people. Manage the budget. On Grant Street they react. Being proactive isn't a valued priority.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

City may use police funds to cover firefighter overtime costs

Wednesday, December 14, 2005
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Understaffing in Pittsburgh's Fire Bureau is forcing the city to consider moving $2.58 million from its Police Bureau budget to cover firefighter overtime.

Neither the firefighters nor the police are happy about it.

Pittsburgh City Council is scheduled to vote today on the shift as part of nearly $4.2 million in year-end money shuffling. Of that, $3 million comes out of the police budget.

"You've got guys short on every roll call," fumed Eugene Grattan, past president of the local Fraternal Order of Police and now a member of the union's board. "They won't [schedule] our guys to do overtime, and yet they have money to give to Fire."

Firefighters are just as upset.

As their ranks dwindle, they face mandatory double shifts, said International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1 President Joe King.

"What you're going to have is burnout," he said.

Budgeted to have 717 firefighters, the city's force is down to 545 and on its way to 500 because of a rash of retirements, said Fire Chief Michael Huss.

That forces him to spend $1 million a month in premium pay to keep 159 firefighters on duty at all times, as required by the union contract and safety standards.

"With so few people, there are going to be a lot of callbacks and a lot of time working," he said.

The 57 recruits now in training won't come close to covering the staffing shortage. The bureau hopes to train another 160 recruits next year, gradually approaching the 700-firefighter level, Chief Huss said.

Regardless of rank, firefighters receive $284 when called in to work an extra shift, which runs 10 hours during daylight or 14 hours at night. That's less than time-and-a-half, but more than regular pay for most firefighters.

Around 25 or 30 firefighters retire in a typical year. This year, that number may reach 200.

The mass retirements are driven by a new labor contract. Those who retire this year get lifetime health insurance paid for by the city. Those who retire next year and beyond get a fixed contribution from the city, but must cover from their own pockets any increases in the premiums the city pays.

That change will produce long-term cost savings, said city Treasurer Rich Fees. But it had an unexpected side effect.

"Nobody thought the retirements would go to such high levels," Mr. Fees said. "It's hard to judge how people are going to react to [new] rules."

Because some of the retirees are in their early 50s, their youthful departures will drive up pension costs for decades to come, Mr. King said. The city also has to cover the health care premiums of both the retirees and the recruits replacing them.

Mr. Fees said those costs were "not that significant" in relation to the $418 million budget.

The proposed budget transfer boosts Fire Bureau spending this year to $54.4 million. Mayor Tom Murphy's proposed 2006 budget includes $43 million for the Fire Bureau.

In a Dec. 8 letter to council, Mr. King called that "a setup by the Murphy administration" that will create problems for Mayor-elect Bob O'Connor.

"If $50 million wasn't enough, how can $43 million do it?" Mr. King asked.

Mr. Murphy declined comment.

His proposed 2006 budget includes $7.7 million for premium pay -- less than two-thirds what the city will spend this year.

Mr. King said the need for large budget shifts reflects a failure in the city's Act 47 recovery plan, which closed six fire stations.

"All they were interested in was less firefighters," and they failed to take into account the costs of overtime, he said.

Act 47 recovery team co-leader James Roberts could not be reached for comment.

Chief Huss, who became chief in March, said the city moved as fast as it could on recruits when it realized retirements would blow past expectations.

The new recruits will graduate Jan. 27 and start promptly. Another class of 40 will start Feb. 6, Chief Huss said.

Police have been nearly 100 officers short for most of the year. They'll approach the budgeted level of 900 with the graduation of recruits now in the academy.

The short staffing has made the police budget flush enough to bail out the Fire Bureau and the controller's office, which is $430,000 short.

(Rich Lord can be reached at or 412-263-1542.)