Port Angeles councilwoman cites overtime concerns

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT ANGELES — The city’s 2013 budget has been approved, but one city councilwoman said she still has issues with the increase in overtime staffing costs seen across the city’s departments over the past several years.

During budget discussions at a Dec. 4 City Council meeting, Sissi Bruch said she was concerned about the overtime costs.

According to city figures, overtime costs are expected to be $363,800 in 2013 — a 28 percent increase from the roughly $283,000 spent in 2010.

The cost of overtime is expected to increase 2.3 percent from this year to next.

Bruch said that she needed to see “those trends decrease, not increase.”

In a later interview, she said she would have liked to have seen the overtime issue discussed more during the 2012 budget deliberations but said she understood why other issues took precedence.

But Bruch said she wants to take up the matter early in 2014.

“Come January, I want to look at the budget in depth,” she said.

Overtime costs for most of the city’s seven main departments are predicted to increase next year between 1 percent and 3 percent, with the Fire Department expecting a 14.4 percent increase due to the elimination of a vacant assistant fire chief/fire marshal position.

Fire Chief Ken Dubuc said he will take up the bulk of fire inspection and prevention duties once done by the fire marshal with support from an existing firefighter/paramedic who will be shifted to a fire-prevention position.

With Dubuc and the firefighter/paramedic taking on additional responsibilities, the fire marshal position will remain unfilled, allowing the department to eliminate a floating $90,000-per-year firefighter/paramedic position and not lay off any Fire Department employees.

The firefighter/paramedic who once occupied the floating spot will be moved to the position held by the staff member who will move into the fire-prevention role, Dubuc explained.

Keeping the $90,000 position would cost more than the roughly $10,000 expected increase in overtime from 2012 to 2013, Dubuc added.

“It’s at the end of the day a significant savings,” Dubuc said. “This was done specifically so that we didn’t have to lay someone off.”

Of the city’s seven main departments, the City Manager’s Office, which has listed no overtime cost since 2010‚ and the Police Department expect to stay at this year’s levels or decrease overtime costs in 2013.

The Police Department forecast that it will spend $239,900 in overtime costs in 2013, about 3½ times more than the next highest user, the Fire Department, at $69,300, expected in 2013.

However, the Police Department’s overtime costs are predicted to decrease 6.2 percent from this year to next. They have decreased about 31 percent since 2007, when overtime costs hovered at about $350,000.

At a City Council work session in November, Police Chief Terry Gallagher said the two main drivers for police overtime are writing arrest reports and training.

To help decrease the department’s overtime costs, Port Angeles police have developed a so-called “4/11” shift schedule, meaning officers will work four 11-hour days per week, Gallagher said.

This is a change from the current five-day, eight-hour weekly shift schedule.

With the 4/11 schedule, Gallagher explained, individual officers will start at staggered times in the morning to allow as many officers as possible to work within the hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., typically the busiest stretch of time for calls.

For example, the 4/11 shift will allow between five and six officers to be on duty between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and fewer officers during less-busy times, such as between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., Gallagher said in a later interview.

“The key is to put resources where you need them when you need them,” Gallagher said.

Currently, the 5/8 shift has the same number of officers on duty between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., for example, as between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., he said.

More officers on duty during the busiest call times also will help spread out the number of arrests each officer makes, thereby reducing the time each officer has to spend writing reports, Gallagher said.

The 4/11 shifts also will change when overtime for a given officer is triggered — from more than eight hours worked in a single day to more than 11 hours worked, he added.

Gallagher said he expects the new shift framework to start in January, with an eventual 40 percent to 60 percent decrease in overtime costs expected.

Dispatchers at the communications division of the Police Department — or ­PenCom — recently shifted to a 12-hour-day, 42-hour-workweek schedule and have seen use of sick time cut in half because more days off per week is allowing dispatchers to live a healthier lifestyle, Gallagher said.

“I think [the 4/11 change] will be good for the quality of life for police officers and for savings,” Gallagher said. “I’m pretty excited about it.”

Gallagher tasked his commissioned officers to come up with a shift schedule that decreased costs and kept officers healthier, and said they spent the past year or so doing research and developing the 4/11 plan.

Through this research, the officers found studies that showed longer periods of uninterrupted days off coupled with longer workdays are better for public safety personnel than shorter workdays and fewer days off, Gallagher explained.

This officer-sourced approach is one of the main reasons why Gallagher said he thinks the 4/11 plan will benefit the entire Police Department.

“It’s very likely we’re going to be successful when we make this change,” Gallagher said.

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 11. 2012 6:02PM
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