STOW — Health issues, a retirement and a resignation are contributing to the city’s safety forces needing increased funding for overtime.

Both the police and fire departments recently increased their budgets for overtime expenses for a variety of reasons, including manning shortages, anticipated payouts of earned compensatory time and training costs.

Last month, city council approved increasing the police department’s overtime budget from $350,000 to $450,000 and, the month before, approved increasing the fire department’s overtime budget from $272,000 to $402,000.

As of Oct. 4, the police department had spent $293,153 on overtime expenses, while the fire department had spent $277,024 on overtime costs, according to Finance Director John Baranek.

Both departments asked for an increase in their overtime budget during the year in 2018, too, but did not end up using all of that money.

In 2018, the police department originally budgeted $350,000 for overtime expenses, then increased that amount by $100,000. The department ended up spending $378,341 on overtime that year, according to Baranek.

In 2018, the fire department earmarked $272,000, then also increased the figure by $100,000. The department ended up spending $357,826 that year.

Baranek said when the departments have additional overtime expenses approved during a given year, the money comes from the unencumbered balance in the general fund. Any budgeted overtime money that is not used in a fiscal year is returned to the general fund’s unencumbered balance at the end of the year, according to Baranek.

Police Chief Jeff Film said the city is reimbursed for some police overtime expenses through an OVI grant and being part of the Summit County Drug Task Force. So far this year the city has received $14,072 in reimbursement from the OVI grant and $16,712 in reimbursement from the Drug Task Force work. 

In 2018, Film said the city received reimbursements of $19,619 from the OVI grant and $25,114 from the Drug Task Force participation.

He noted, however, that the reimbursement goes to the city’s general fund rather than the police overtime budget.

With these reimbursements, Film noted the department is "actually under our original overtime budget for 2018 and we expect the same for 2019. The request for the additional overtime is because of where the funds are located and where the reimbursement is deposited."

A review of police department overtime issues

Film recently told council and the mayor that the police’s overtime budget had $89,312.81 remaining with seven pay periods upcoming as of Sept. 5. The average amount the department spent on overtime and compensatory time cashed out in each pay period is $14,482.62. With those figures, Film said he determined he would need almost $116,00 to cover overtime expenses for the rest of 2019.

"However, I anticipate this to be higher due to one officer being on light duty (medical), and two vacant positions from a resignation and [a] retirement," wrote Film in a letter to Mayor John Pribonic on Sept. 5. "These departures are causing a shortage on the shifts and overtime is necessary at times to keep the minimum staffing requirements. We currently have two officers in the [Field Training Officer] program and expect them to be released on their own in late October."

Film also noted that several officers this year have undergone surgeries, resulting in them being off work "and/or on light duty status for an extended period of time." He added another officer took extended time off due to the birth of a child.

Film told the Stow Sentry on Tuesday that another officer had since resigned from the police department.

Film added more money also needs to be allocated to cover officers’ requests to cash out a certain amount of earned compensatory (comp) time, which he said is typically high at the end of the year due to the holiday season. He explained that officers are allowed to earn comp time under the union contract and allowed to "cash out" a certain amount annually.

Asking for more overtime money to cover the comp time payouts is "an insurance policy in case they do cash it out … We have to be prepared for that," said Film.

A review of fire department overtime issues

Fire Chief Mark Stone said he believes this is the earliest in the year that he’s requested an increase in his department’s overtime allocation.

The three largest fire department overtime expenses this year are: manning shortage ($105,305), general alarm calls ($51,357) and Continuing Medical Education training costs ($46,974.47). The manning shortage expenses cover shift vacancies that occur due to "injury, illnesses, etc.," said Stone.

"The manning shortage is obviously the biggest area of concern," added Stone. "We have had a vacancy for most of the year, a resignation and numerous injuries. When the number of personnel drops below our minimum manning, we must call in personnel on overtime to maintain services for our community."

Stone noted his department puts out a general alarm to call in off-duty personnel if on-duty personnel needs assistance.

"Off-duty personnel who can fill positions at the station will come in and answer additional calls or help with larger incidents such as fires and weather emergencies, which may last for a number of hours," said Stone.

The firefighters have EMS training once a month because they are required to complete a certain number of hours of training each year.

The monthly training provides a "minimum of what they need," said Stone.

Stone said he hired three firefighters this year — two in July and one in September — which brought the department back "to our full authorized strength." Stone noted that filling vacancies this year was challenging because he was competing with other departments that were also hiring. He added his department "scrutinizes" its prospective personnel "more heavily" than some other departments, an approach which extends the time it takes to hire someone.

Stone added there were four firefighters who had injuries this year "that resulted in lost time." One of those firefighters has been on injury leave since April, according to Stone, who also noted three firefighters took time off following the birth of their children earlier in the year.

"It was one of those weird years where [there] was a perfect storm of events," said Stone.

Stone said the police department received a grant from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office that will reimburse the fire department for "part or all" of its Quick Response Team (QRT) overtime expenses.

Like their counterparts in the police department, Stone said firefighters can cash out some of their earned comp time and he needs to allocate money for that expense, too.

A closer look at the numbers

According to Baranek, the police department spent the following amounts on overtime costs during the previous four years:

• 2017, $361,729;

• 2016, $355,115;

• 2015, $320,294; and

• 2014, $413,866.

The fire department spent the following amounts on overtime expenses during the previous four years:

• 2017, $282,479;

• 2016, $269,379;

• 2015, $275,837; and

• 2014, $324,027.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.