Sandwich Police Overtime Requires Hefty Year-End Budget Transfer
By: Mary Stanley
Town Accountant Doreen A. Guild has been busy closing out the books on fiscal year 2012 and this week, she went before the finance committee requesting three budget transfers from the town’s reserve fund to cover overages in several accounts.
The committee approved a $23,414 transfer to the town’s legal account, $6,421 into the fire department’s overtime account and $307,059 into the police department’s overtime account. This $307,059 was in addition to the $367,000 that had already been budgeted for that department’s overtime account in the 2012 budget.
Police Chief Peter N. Wack said there are a number of reasons why his department’s overtime account runs into the red each year. He explained that it costs $250,000 just to cover required time off that each employee’s contract allows for. This includes vacation time, holidays, and sick leave. He explained that to keep three patrol cars on the road, when an officer is out due to a vacation day or sick day, another officer must be called in to fill the vacancy in the shift.
“I have a staff level of 34 sworn police officers, but I have never been at full staff,” he said.
It also costs $70,000 in overtime to cover shifts when officers are out due to state-mandated training or firearms training.
“Each officer is required to have 40 hours of training per year and we have to absorb that cost,” he said. He explained that if an officer is out for training, the vacancy left in his shift needs to be filled. And one single July day costs a seaside community like Sandwich an additional $10,000 for police services.
“On the Fourth of July there is an extremely heavy influx of people on our beaches and our roads. It costs $10,000 to provide the necessary police presence,” he said.
Outside of those expected situations, he said, are the unexpected events. He pointed out that he had to call in additional personnel when Hurricane Irene was forecast to hit the area last year. Though the Federal government did reimburse the town for costs related to that storm, Chief Wack said the money did not come in right away and when it did, it went into the general fund.
In addition to that, he said he had 17 separate long-term employee absences for issues such as injuries, prolonged illness, administrative issues, and military leave. “We had two-long term absences due to military leave,” the chief said. He defined “long-term” as approximately one year.
On top of that, he said, crimes such as armed robberies can eat up a lot of overtime as detectives work almost around the clock to close the case. He said the case of the armed robbery at a liquor store on Route 6A earlier this year took a lot of overtime. The case, however, was solved in less than two weeks. Other crimes, such as home burglaries also put a strain on the overtime budget.
He said he is trying to cut down on overtime expenses by considering a number of different strategies.
“Twice a year, we conduct sick leave audits to ensure that nobody is abusing the sick time policy. We have been able to cut down on sick leave quite a bit this year,” he said.
The capital budget for the upcoming fiscal year calls for spending money to arm police officers with Tasers, which they can use to subdue a suspect or prisoner. He said he believes this equipment will help reduce the number of injuries that police officers incur on the job when they are arresting violent or aggressive suspects.
The chief said he is also looking into the savings that might be realized by hiring civilian dispatchers rather than using trained police officers to man the dispatch unit. He said he would have to hire a minimum of eight dispatchers but because these individuals would be paid less than police officers, it could save money. He said it would also free up the trained police officers so that they could be on the road rather than behind the dispatch desk.
“Civilian dispatchers won’t completely eliminate overages in the overtime account, but it could help in reducing overtime costs,” he said.
Town Manager George H. Dunham added $100,000 to the police department’s overtime account in the fiscal year 2013 budget to “more realistically fund that account.”