Thursday, October 16, 2008

Takin’ care of business…

…And working overtime. Guitar!

This Bachman-Turner Overdrive classic rapidly became a quasi-anthem for the nine-to-fiver toeing the line during the 1970s. In later decades, the melody became synonymous with the ‘things are getting done’ montage and Jim Beluishi’s predilection for wearing Hawaiian shirts. Today, city residents might consider humming this tune as they drop off their property tax bills. Maybe even get the clerk to join in for the last refrain. After all, it’s going to take a lot of business to pay up the hundreds of thousands of dollars city workers are slated to receive in overtime.

The $38.2 million city budget proposing a 3.8 percent tax hike also includes roughly $798,000 to pay workers overtime in 2009. This cash will go toward paying everyone from the highway department worker pitching in a few early morning hours to clear snow-choked roads to the cop working an extra eight hours because the department is short staffed. Overtime in the 2009 budget will be haplessly pitched into a slush fund within each department and doled by supervisors on an ‘as needed’ basis. In other words, it will be spent in its entirety and then some.

Now for some of the Spa City’s platinum card-carrying residents, $798,000 might not sound like a big deal. After all, it’s only a fraction of the overall budget. But consider this: If the city were to magically eliminate overtime spending from the general fund altogether and that savings was applied to the $14.3 million tax levy, city residents would see an almost flat budget this year.

What is even more startling is that the proposed allocation for overtime this year is actually pretty good, as compared to what Finance Commissioner Ken Ivins is projecting the city will spend this year. Estimates in the 2009 budget show the city will fork over more than $1.02 million in overtime expenses.

This overtime is broadly spread across departments and ranges from $13,082 earned by city garage personnel to $15,825 afforded to workers at the Weibel Avenue Ice Rink. Tree cutters will garner $3,200 of time-and-a-half pay, while the Finance Department’s ‘data processors’ will net a clean $3,000.

Update: The natives are already restless over the proposed cuts in overtime. Not even a day after this post, business leaders are allegedly calling for a meeting with city officials to see if the overtime cuts might impact the Spa City’s never-ending stream of street festivals. Well here’s a quick answer based in fact: They won’t. But this is the response they’ll probably get from Kim and his new best friend, Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco:

“There are no bodies to put out there.”

Well, Skip, they were actually asking about who will help with these events, not where the city might get cadavers for an ultra-realistic Halloween ghoulfest. But now that you mention it, please do explain to us what your “bodies are doing out there.” ’Cause when I see them, they’re usually doing a lot of standing around.

But the cake for best wastrel of overtime dollars naturally goes to Ron Kim, whose Department of Public Safety seems to be a veritable black hole of time-and-a-half earners. Take for instance the dispatchers. This year, they are anticipated to earn a jaw-dropping $130,000 in overtime, which is just $32,000 short of what the city firefighters will earn for actually being dispatched to calls. This year, Ivins chopped their allotment to a still-impressive $65,000, which is about $13,000 less than they collected in 2007.

And then there are the patrolmen. Aside from all their other volumes of contracted benefits, the city cops will take home roughly $400,000 in overtime, accounting for more than a third of the extra pay the city will dole out this year. This overtime blasts through the $330,200 the department was originally budgeted in 2008, which was a more than $70,000 increase from what they earned the previous year. Fortunately, Ivins decided to push back a bit, knocking the cops’ budgeted overtime back to $275,000. Still, this is a ludicrous 48 percent increase over what the department was initially afforded in the 2008 budget.

As aforementioned, the firefighters are no slouches themselves when it comes to collecting overtime. Yet the line item for the fire department has remained remarkably static when compared to the police spending over the past two years. The firefighters brought home $143,000 in overtime payments in 2007 and were afforded a modest $24,000 increase in the revised 2008 budget. Unlike their cop counterparts, the firefighters appear to be about $7,000 under their overtime budget this year, a stunning thought considering the rest of the city’s departments generally spent up to their limit and even over in some cases.

The comparison between the firefighters and the police is important to note, seeing as though they both have very dangerous jobs that sometimes result in injury. In the private business world, injury is one of the few excuses employers have for accepting overtime on the payroll. After all, it’s illegal to dismiss an injured employee and filling that space on the short-term basis is difficult to say the least, especially if the position requires months of training.

With this noted, it’s interesting to see the fire department has more-or-less forecast their overtime needs, while the police have almost chronically ignored their budget. Perhaps this is because Chief Ed Moore is spending more time on vacation than he is managing his department. Or perhaps it’s because the Public Safety commissioner is nothing more than a paid shill for the increasingly powerful police union, which just happens to be working out a new contract with the city.

What is even more remarkable is that Kim can piss and moan about his department being on the receiving end of proposed job cuts, when the two agencies he is intrinsically tasked to manage are running roughshod over their overtime budgets. Were he to trim the budgeted overtime by even half, he could hire five full-time workers at $50,000 annually. It’s something conscientious taxpayers should take to the upcoming budget hearings.

The bottom line is the overtime is unacceptable, no matter what department is collecting it. Massive overtime payments are almost always indicative of poor management, whether it’s ensuring enough people are on the job, or more importantly, the right people are on the job. But when the entire budget process gets mired in piddling issues –whether or not to buy a new phone system for City Hall –the larger piece of the pie gets left in the fridge to marinate.

18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally unrelated, but why do we outsource voter registration?

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Firemen would only need overtime if a fire should occur. With the smoke detectors, sprinkler systems , other fire prevention methods, the numbers of actual working fires is at an all time low.
On the other hand, police unions dictate staff levels, therefore men in uniform are needed regardless of crime, or actual need.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saratoga Springs is a perfect example of the tails wagging the dogs. "Bow Wow" says the dog to his master. I'll bark until you let me eat from the table. Bow Wow.

6:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No projected tax increase for Glens Falls... How does that happen?

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn’t it unfortunate that some in our City’s government cannot realize that efficiency can become a more effective and responsible approach to getting things done?

We read, that if the overtime budget is cut, then there will be no more truck inspections, building inspections, parade street closings, anti-drug training, snow removal, and or whatever it takes to make their point. Are we to assume that the City personnel staff that remains at their posts are unable (or unwilling) to do the people’s work without overtime?

How many trucks are fined each year for illegally traversing the prohibited City Streets? How many apartment houses are systematically inspected for public safety code violations? How does PS explain that these duties as well as the DARE program are “overtime” expenses? How many streets, how many snow storms and how many leaves collected does it take to cripple our PWD’s responsibilities?

These are difficult times. They call for critical and decisive planning. They demand that our Commissioners take a hard look at the efficiency of their departments, in the same way taxpaying homeowners are forced to adjust their budgeted expenses. Holding hostage important “public” services in order to make a point is inappropriate. This may be the first time in a very long time that we are compelled to increase efficiency. Perhaps in the future, these so-called overtime hostages can be outsourced.

9:03 AM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

I was reading an article a while back of how one community out in the Midwest had to make a decision of either paying their retired teachers or paying their current working teachers. I don’t recall how the issue was finally resolved.

This dilemma points out a very unfair discrepancy that we have in this country. Teachers, cops, fireman, all public employees have all been put on a pedestal at the expense of the rest of us.

A perfect example of what I am talking about is the health care problem that we have in this country.

I want the same health insurance that all government employees now have. This is a fucking Right, the same unalienable rights as those of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, not a benefit given to a select few.

If by giving the rest of us health care, the privileged class that now enjoys this right has to give up a little bit, fuck’em they’ll get use to it.

The same thing applies to retirement. Why should these greedy assholes all be able to retire at the age of 55 or after 20 years of service, many of them double-dipping, when the rest of us commonly have to work until we are 70 or older?

Next time you walk by one of those 70 or 80 year old folks standing at Wal-Mart’s greeting customers; remember they are forced to do this at the expense of some retired 55 year old government worker.

Of course, some people reading this will shake their heads thinking this is socialism. These same people sighed a breath of relief when the government recently spent 700 billion to nationalize the banking system to protect their 401Ks.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is the overtime spent and why should be the question!
For those of you who miss the late night antics of our boys/girls in blue and black and whites. How many trips can one take down Broadway in one night?
Why does it take not 3, 4 or even 5, but 6 police cars to investigate a "Walking while Hispanic" pullover of a drunk strolling down Caroline Street on a Wednesday early a.m. look see. Stop, talk, spotlight, show ID, Green Card and then walk away. But cop cars are all over the situation as "back up".
Let's put a hand counter on the trips down Caroline Street any weekend. It's not like the money made from DWIs is covering the cost of the overtime since that would infringe on the downtown businesses. Pay, drink, piss in The Saratogian parking lot and drive away. We'll let the Saratoga County Sherriff Dept. do the dirty work.
Show me the reason for the overtime, who, when and why and then I might bite.
Until then, bite me!

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ho,
You hit the nail on the head but only touched the tip of the iceberg. Here are two other facts most people don’t know but they should. First is with regard to comp time. The police are scheduled to book almost a half million dollars in over time in 2008 and $650,000 in comp time. A police officer that works overtime can decide whether to be paid that week for it, or save it as comp time (at the same 1.5 hours per one hour of time worked). They can then cash it in at any time. Whether it is next week, next month, or years from now (when they are making twice as much money). They can then cash it in at the pay rate they are making at the time they cash it in.
According to the presentation Ivins made, the total overtime was $561,000 in 2005 (when Tom Curley was in office), $643,000 in 2006 (when Ron Kim took over) and $805,000 in 2007. $635,000 was budgeted for 2008 but Rom Kim is projecting they will actually spend $1,050,000. So from 2005 until 2008 the amount almost doubled.
Now Ron Kim says he can’t do his job in 2009 unless this number is at least $900,000. Ivins is telling him to look under the covers for fat, and says he needs to do it for $800,000. That’s not being unreasonable in my opinion. In fact, I think if Commissioner Kim actually spent more time looking at his budget, and less time complaining, he would be able to do it for even less than $800K.
Now here’s the second thing that should outrage everyone. This one is thanks to a powerful Police union and thanks to Police Commissioners that have no backbone at negotiation time. By contract, Chief Moore gets to dole out overtime based upon seniority. So those cops making the most money and have the highest salaries get first refusal on all over time. So instead of the new, lower paid officers being able to make a few extra bucks we are getting slammed by paying time and a half to someone making 50, 60, 70, $80,000 a year. This why some of the highest paid people in the city are Police officers. All to stand on Broadway for a city event that has very little crime.
And the worse part of all this is that these police officers retirement is based upon how much they make during their final years of service! So not only do we pay more today, now they get to pad their retirement forever. So we as taxpayers get slammed again and again and again and again.
For the first time in history, we have a Mayor that proactively has gotten involved with union negotiation. I hope Mayor Johnson is listening to this, and I hope that the legal council he hired to negotiate a new contract can change some of this. We’ve got to do a better job than what Commissioner Kim has done.
Between Kim’s miss management and the unions holding us hostage, it’s no wonder we pay so much in taxes.
My last point, and this may not be a popular one, but I believe Erin Dryer was actually trying to do something about these issues. Don’t get me wrong, she has plenty of faults and her methods were misguided, but in reading through the grand jury reports and doing some homework, it is clear she was trying to play hardball and fight for the taxpayers on these issues. She upset the apple cart, she got Chief Moore and the Unions in a lather and they went for her Achilles heel. Unfortunately, she was an easy target, and the Unions won out again creating many false charges to get rid of her. Then, to top it off, Chief Moore had the balls to bring a law suit against the city to “clear his good name” (???).
The attitude of all the unions in this city is that the streets are paved with gold and residents can afford to pay ever higher taxes. They are lining the pockets of their union members at our expense. We are being held hostage by the same people who have pledged to serve us. It is just criminal and I for one am sick and tired of it.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our Public Safety Commissioner proposes to charge owners of large residential buildings to conduct state-mandated inspections claiming that the Building Department staff is “too small” to handle the required Public Safety Inspections. Yet, the Building Department Inspectors are not the staff that are required to carry out these specific inspections.

1. Public Safety Inspections of the said buildings are to be carried out once every three years by the existing Public Safety Inspectors. On a rotation basis, they don’t all have to be done each year.

2. Building Department Inspectors (Mayor’s Department) are not required to address these specific life safety fire code inspections.

3. The City is mandated to do these inspections by law since they have accepted the NYSBC code just as other NYS cities, but have refused because we did not receive “extra” money to carry out their responsibilities.

So how many inspections on a rotation basis have been carried out in the last four years? When was the last time our multifamily apartment houses like some on Caroline Street were inspected for fire code concerns? Do we need another tragic fire with the excuse that there was no time during the last five years to inspect these buildings or that present staffing could not walk through these buildings one at a time and do their jobs?

Should the City consider contracting its required Public Safety building inspections to independent contractors which require umbrellas and benefits?

And then, can outsourcing truck inspections, anti-drug elementary school programs, crossing guards and proposing neighborhood patrols by the Guardian Angels be next so as not to be held hostage to "no overtime - no work" demands?

4:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do we see six, seven, eight or more police vehicles parked on Maple Ave. or in the city parking lot? Any time of day (and NO, not just at the shift change as cops will always tell you) you will see them parked out there.
Do we really need that many vehicles? and if we do, why aren't they on patrol?

9:03 AM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Ummm, the cops need all of those cars for spares. They wreck quite a few of them every year driving back and forth from Dunkin' Donuts.

1:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 9:03 - "Why do we see six, seven, eight or more police vehicles parked on Maple Ave. or in the city parking lot?"

Maybe because parking them in driveways in Wilton has been frowned on, or perhaps the officers have been encouraged to walk the neighborhoods and downtown streets - wouldn't that be nice?

Now that the black and white "mobile offices" have replaced most of all the Hill Street blue units, the two hour presentation yesterday on “Safety through Overtime”, reinforces the question, “What is it that the city taxpayer pays for in maintaining a Public Safety Department, when it's leadership promotes the work ethic, "No overtime – No service"?

Do we need an efficiency expert that works for the taxpayers?

3:35 AM  
Blogger shotinthedark said...

Dear Quasi,

Lil'Kim would be a good place to start.

According to him and Chef Moore from their presentation on overtime at last nights council meeting nothing can be done. The situation is hopeless as far as any improvements or savings go. The public must just suck it up and learn to live with whatever they tell us.
According to them the police and firemen are already severely overworked and are doing much more than is humanly possible.
Chef Moore doesn’t want to waste his time "looking back" to explain or justify overtime to taxpayers.
And let's be clear, if Lil'Kim or Chef Moore hear anymore complaints about overtime we can all forget about having any special events downtown and the D.A.R.E. program will also become history. (Which will be a great relief to all of those pot-smoking parents out there)

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i say out source the public safty, how could they do a worse job...seems we get the lowest bidder now as far as actual efficient work getting done...every city has crime do we get "moore" than we bargained for...leadership we all can pay "moore" for

all the cars and all the patrols...how come the no parking out by the lake bridge is over looked..."moore" evidence that the leadeship can't do the job, even on a revenue making safty issue.

why did it take a private individual to pressure the noparking regulation enforced and finally get the job done at Yadoo?

was it "moore" work than the pay? or was it KIMPOSSIBLE to enforce?

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Based on all of the above comments. I take it not a single one of you has had to file a report with the police, while sitting in a hallway with people walking by, because they do not have the space to interview within the department. Take a tour of our lovely police department. Read the papers. Look at the crime in Albany, someone shot and killed just yesterday. Tell me again how far do we live from there? Just because its not in the papers does not mean we do not have a crime issue in our city. Stop listening to the politicians and others that haven't themselves done the research or been personally involved in one way or the another. I give our police department a great deal of respect. I hope all of you that feel the police are asking for too much, finally see what they have done and are doing for us. Before you know it, if we keep going the way some people are hoping we go,we are going to end up like Albany with crime. From someone born and raised here, I hate to think of that happening. Think about your kids and all the other kids in this community that could be affected.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 11:17 AM “not a single one of you has had to file a report with the police, while sitting in a hallway with people walking by, because they do not have the space to interview within the department”

This is like the Joe that wants to discourage the inlaws by making sure the plumbing isn’t working every time they visit.

The Commissioners of Public Safety have had the ability to relocate the public’s waiting bench behind closed doors but have chosen to display it proudly in front of the public vending machines while at the same time illegally modifying the station with non code compliant modifications, staging protests around hanging wires and dripping toilets instead. It took two years and a lawsuit to make the repairs that had already been approved by the Council. Quite the "Fail-o-Meter" show.

All of our own kids are “born and raised here” and hope to afford the services now shamelessly demanded by the largest city department that professes to be inadequate unless it can double its staff and triple the size of its facility. All cities have crime (yes, even Saratoga going back 150 years) and that is why we have a police department, yet this city is not the one you did not grow up in and fear. The prospects of available land and higher taxes make its population less attractive and less affordable to project it growing into cities like Albany and Schenectady.

With all of the time spent during the last three years complaining about inadequacy, one has to wonder how much time was allocated for becoming more efficient and strategically developing a management plan that benefits the finances of the city resident at the same time honing the effectiveness of our present professional city staff. Municipal employees (many of whom don’t live in the city and pay its taxes) that have Gotham envy should go work for the State or County if they desire more equipment and a larger workforce. But that door is ending as economic woes are closing those doors.

Maybe we need Joe the Plumber to fix that bench location and propose a tax friendly reasonable expansion plan.

5:30 AM  
Anonymous Real Deal said...

anon 5:30 Why don't you and your friends collecting disability forfeit your income for the good of Saratoga? You sit around downtown in your fancy coffee shop and act as if you are being short changed. Pitch in your disability check and if 10 million others follow your lead we can get somewhere.

4:15 AM  
Anonymous Real Deal (the real one) said...

4:14

Hey Asshole---again, I ask that you stop using the 'Real Deal' tag that I have deemed as my moniker on here.

After all, I dont want anyone confusing me with you and the rest of your Keehn imbeciles.

5:19 PM  

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