Can Belleville reduce its overtime costs?

News-DemocratApril 12, 2014 

— Two Belleville police sergeants once again top the city's list of highest earners in 2013.

Employee salary and overtime information also shows the Police Department leads the city in overtime spending, at $719,547, or 60 percent of the city's $1.2 million overtime total.

City officials, however, caution against drawing conclusions that the city could use overtime money to hire more police officers.

Police Chief William Clay and Mayor Mark Eckert said it's simplistic to think that way because some of the overtime money doesn't belong to the city and a majority of the overtime the city pays is a necessary cost of doing business.

Clay said a new police station, not more officers, will make the department more efficient.

But Clay and Eckert do say that hiring more dispatchers would reduce overtime in that category. The city spent $79,678 on overtime for dispatchers this year.

The next highest overtime spending is by the Street Department at $169,484 and the Fire Department, $142,507.

About 20 percent of the Police Department overtime budget come from outside groups who hire off-duty police and reimburse the city.

Groups such as Memorial Hospital, Belleville School District 201 and Art on the Square organizers hire off-duty officers to provide security at their businesses, sporting events or festivals.

For this reason, police sergeants Craig Stafford and Parrish Marshall each earned more than six-figures, topping the police chief, who has the third highest total pay in the city.

Stafford, for instance, earned $112,492, of which $36,793 was mostly overtime from outside groups.

Marshall earned $27,434 of his $103,163 with mostly overtime from outside groups.

In comparison, Clay earned $98,498 in 2013 and had no overtime pay.

The city's top 12 wages all go to police and fire employees, with one exception: Royce Carlisle, superintendent of the sewer division, who earned $89,303 and no overtime pay.

Eckert is the 27th highest paid out of 473 full and part-time employees, earning $83,152 and no overtime.

The News-Democrat obtained the city's $19.7 million payroll through a Freedom of Information Act request. A searchable database can be found at bnd.com/salaries.

How police OT works

Outside groups, such as schools, businesses and nonprofits, hire off-duty Belleville officers to provide safety at their events.

Officers bill their hours to these groups, which then send a check to the city.

Memorial Hospital was the largest source of such income this current fiscal year, reimbursing the city at least $41,504.

For this off-duty work, outside groups reimburse the city $50.45 per hour for an officer and $54.90 per hour for a sergeant.

The rate covers the officer's salary at time and a half and also every cost associated with a working officer: health insurance, workers' compensation insurance, uniform reimbursement, gas and more.

The money funnels through the city because the police officers are in Belleville police uniform and squad cars. This is so the officers can continue acting as police officers in their full capacity and not as security guards.

It also gives the city more control over where officers can work off-duty. Belleville officers cannot work off-duty at bars or outside city limits, such as St. Clair Square.

Officers ranked above sergeant cannot work off-duty shifts unless there are no officers or sergeants available and get paid at a flat rate, according to union contract.

To prevent fatigue, officers are only allowed to work a maximum of 16 hours a day. An officer who typically works a 12-hour shift can only work four hours of off-duty work that day.

Aside from outside funding sources, the Police Department spent $572,401 in overtime so far this fiscal year in these three categories:

* Overtime tied to police operations: About $374,641, the bulk, is for police tasks that require overtime pay, Clay said.

Officers who work a holiday, testify in a trial or attend mandatory training are doing things beyond their regular duty and must be paid overtime.

"These categories will cost us no matter what ... even if we hire more officers," Clay said.

More officers might even increase this type of overtime, Clay said.

The Police Department has the most employees, 84 sworn officers and about 25 civilian staffers, and the largest departmental budget, a proposed $9.5 million in 2014-15.

Clay includes in the category of necessary overtime the instances where an officer goes on a "late call" near the end of a shift.

If an officer responds to a crash or a murder near the end of a shift, the officer can't leave the scene if there is more work to do because the shift has ended, Clay said. There are instances where it makes sense for the officer to keep working -- to minimize contamination of a crime scene or losing evidence and leads. This results in overtime.

* Public events: About $22,394 is for public events in which the City Council has agreed to help with police overtime service.

The city provides the most police overtime, $5,662, to the Ainad Shriners Circus parade. The Santa Parade expense comes in next at $3,327 and the Tour de Belleville costs $2,941.

* Special police details: The remaining $175,366 is for special police details meant as proactive measures to prevent crime, such as All Hands on Deck and checking on those who violate curfew or sex offender registration. There are about 20 details a year.

The city's busy shopping season in November and December is the highest cost in this category. It cost $84,727 to provide extra police patrol this past holiday.

Eckert said the city has good results with these field operations and extra police presence during the holidays.

"It has a high price tag but the city has a high price to pay, too, if you have a few instances in the community and people say, 'It's a bad community. Let's not shop there.'"

Can OT be reduced?

The Street Department helps with events such as public festivals downtown, but most of their overtime is tied to unpredictable weather and other emergency situations.

Finance Director Jamie Maitret said the Street Department's overtime this year soared to $169,484 because of storms, ice and snow forcing street crews to work around the clock.

Eckert said the city could hire more street employees because the department was cut to 15 workers from 20.

But having more street employees doesn't mean a reduction in overtime because of the nature of the job, Eckert said.

The city always assesses whether it's possible to handle a situation without using overtime, but overtime isn't a priority in the face of an incident that poses a hazard to the public, Eckert said.

As outlined by the union contract, employees get time-and-a-half if they work a Saturday whenever there is a holiday on a Monday, and double the normal pay if they report to work on a Sunday, such as the case for several storms this winter.

Eckert attributes $142,507 of overtime in the Fire Department this year to a mix of firefighters getting hurt on or off the job, and recent retirements resulting in firefighters taking on interim duties. Scott Lanxon retired in February after 28 years with the city.

City leaders acknowledge the city can reduce the $79,678 spent on overtime for dispatchers this year by hiring more police dispatchers.

Overtime for St. Clair County's Emergency Management Agency dispatchers totaled $56,954.

The St. Clair County Sheriff's Department spent $375,613 in overtime in areas of administration, bailiffs, jail and patrol.

Belleville Capt. Don Sax said the Police Department recently hired an additional dispatcher and that alleviated some staffing issues related to illnesses and other time off.

After sergeants Stafford and Marshall, the employee with the most overtime is police dispatcher Patrick Spivey, who earned $21,144 in overtime in 2013. Unlike Stafford and Marshall, Spivey's overtime is paid fully with city funds.

There are two dispatchers working at any given time to staff the center around the clock.

Ideally, there would be three dispatchers and the duties would be a bit different, with one being in a supervisory role, Sax said.

But there's another problem: The size of the existing telecommunications center in the Police Department.

"We don't have a way of putting another person in there, physically," Sax said.

Eckert said the city likely will wait to hire a new dispatcher until after the Police Department moves to a new location.

Are hires in the budget?

Eckert and Maitret said Friday the city will consider hiring a new police officer and moving an officer to the Crime-Free Housing program this fall depending on the budget.

A new hire would bring the Police Department to 85 sworn officers.

Still, Eckert said, based on what Chief Clay needs, the city's priority isn't hiring more officers right now -- it's a new police station.

Clay said it's worth noting that, from a management perspective, in order to put one more officer on patrol means, the city needs six employees to fill that 24-hour position.

City officials announced in February the $3.1 million purchase of the Bank of Belleville at 720 W. Main St. with plans to retrofit the building into a police station for another $7 million.

A new facility will free up manpower in a way that will make it seem like the city has more officers on patrol, officials said.

The layout of the existing station at 101 S. Illinois St. means that a shift commander needs to be in the building, Clay said.

Those in custody have been known to repeatedly flush or clog toilets to flood their cells, which are on the floor above and directly over the sergeant's desk and telecommunications center.

The new building will solve this problem, freeing the shift commander to patrol.

Eckert believes a new station with the space to have training will mean that officers can stay in town for some seminars, cutting down on travel costs.

Maitret said the decision to hire three community resource officers for $27,000 this year also frees up a patrol officer's time spent picking up lunches for prisoners, enforcing parking meters and other tasks.

Maitret said the city needs to hold off hiring officers until it's clear what the actual costs are of remodeling the new police station and how other sources of money shape up later this year.

Some councilmen, such as Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden, have wondered how the city will make good on hiring more officers.

Last year, in deciding whether to extend the 0.25 percent sales tax increase, city leaders discussed using the estimated $1.2 million extra in revenue to hire four police officers.

Before the council voted to extend the tax increase, some aldermen tried to amend the proposal to require that the revenue from the extension go directly to hiring officers. The council majority voted down the effort by Hayden, Ward 6 Alderman Bob White and Alderwoman-at-Large Lillian Schneider.

City leaders said then that the hires might be possible with revenue from the tax extension and if the city gets a federal Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services grant.

The city since learned it did not get another COPS grant and, while money from a previous COPS grant ends this year.

The city hired four officers in December 2010 and January 2011 using money from a COPS grant, which helps pay the officers for three years. Now the city has to pay the full cost for these officers.

Eckert said some aldermen also forget that the council passed several new initiatives since talks of the 0.25 percent sales tax increase extension.

This includes getting a new Freedom of Information Act requests management system, hiring a new GIS coordinator in the Economic Development Department and implementing a new police records management system.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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