Taxpayer money earmarked for police and fire department overtime this year is the highest it has been in the past four years.
There is about $1.1 million budgeted for overtime costs for the police department in the 2012 budget. The fire department is also budgeted for $750,000 in overtime costs.
Compared to 2009, this marks an increase of 85 percent in budgeted police overtime, and a jump of 150 percent for budgeted fire department overtime, according to township documents.
Christopher Jacksic, president of the West Orange police union, PBA Local 25, said he did not doubt that the police department is on pace to exceed $1 million in overtime this year. Jacksic said he correlated the rise in overtime costs for the department to the need for more police officers.
“I am surprised they [the township] are willing to spend that kind of money for overtime when even the hiring of a few officers can combat the overtime and get nowhere near that $1.1 million dollar [figure],” said Jacksic. “ ... There is a reason for the overtime: we are not meeting our minimum manpower staffing.”
Police officers who work overtime get paid at a rate of time and a half. Those hours can be paid immediately or as accrued time, which can be used in the future or for retirement.
In previous years, overtime appears to have been under budgeted, and did not accurately reflect what the township paid at the end of the year.
For example, in 2009 there was $600,000 budgeted for the police department, but the township eventually paid out approximately $1.06 million in overtime. The same can be said for the fire department: in 2011 the budgeted $500,000 fell short of the actual $856,983.03 paid out that year.
Mayor Robert Parisi, responding to the issue of overtime, said the number of employees is not what drives overtime costs. He said that overtime costs are dependent upon a host of variables from year to year, many of which cannot be predicted.
“[Overtime] has ebbed and flowed with circumstances and it hasn’t necessarily been any correlation to the number of cops we have had,” said Parisi.
Parisi pointed out that in 2009, overtime was nearly as high as it was in 2011 but the police department had about 119 cops.
Unforeseeable circumstances -- including weather related events such as excessive snowfall or a tropical storm, or police investigations such as homicides or fires -- can augment overtime costs substantially in a short period of time, said Parisi.
“There are so many factors that lead into [overtime] that you really can’t look at one item as a driving factor," said Parisi.
The police department currently has 92 employees, down from its high in 2006 of 122, according to township figures. The department also has four vacant positions which will not be filled before the end of the year, said Parisi.
Jacksic maintained that the police department is struggling to adequately patrol the township with its current staff.
“With the shortage in officers on the street, we need to fill those spots,” said Jacksic. “We can’t patrol the town without sufficient manpower, and they have to supply those spots with overtime.”
Parisi said the township is committed to patrolling with the same number of police officers it currently has, and added that overtime is necessary to accomplish that.
“The same number of cops serving the community is the same,” said Parisi, “so to fill those positions ... you have less people in the table of organization so overtime runs a little high.
Joe Krakoviak was the only council member to discuss overtime pay before the budget was passed on Tuesday night. “I want to make sure the police out on the street are rested and not ... taking on too many double shifts or too much overtime,” said Krakoviak.
West Orange Police Chief James Abbott confirmed at Tuesday’s council meeting that the department has used "forced overtime" to fill shifts. Abbott was unable to provide how often forced overtime is used because he said the department does not keep track of those figures.
Police Department Overtime
|Fire Department Overtime||Budgeted||Actual costs|