The city is being asked for an additional $1.8 million in overtime pay for firefighters and medics after the Anchorage Fire Department went over budget in 2013.
Mayor Dan Sullivan made the request Tuesday night at the Anchorage Assembly meeting. The appropriation asks for $100,000 for EMS overtime pay and $1.7 million for firefighters.
Assembly member Bill Starr said Wednesday that extra funds for overtime means AFD overspent their budget in other areas, too, on top of $2 million he said was already budgeted for overtime.
In all, Starr said that means the department has as much as a $2.4 million overrun.
“It’s quite a miss, quite an over-spend,” Starr said.
The overrun on overtime was expected by some -- in particular, firefighters.
“I think everyone knew we were over-budget when it was set,” said AFD union head Mike Stumbaugh. “I’m surprised the Assembly is so shocked.”
Stumbaugh said the department, which has about 350 firefighters, is missing as many as 60 firefighter shifts due to lack of staff. That leads to crews that are only fully staffed through overtime.
“It sounds like a lot of overtime, but you’re ordered to work,” Stumbaugh said. “There is a break-over point where’s it’s cheaper to pay me time-and-a-half than it is to hire another firefighter, with full benefits and everything…We’d rather have staff than be ordered to work.”
Starr says the Assembly is already addressing the personnel shortages at AFD, by budgeting for the training of 21 new hires.
“We fully funded an academy,” Starr said.
How many of those positions were ultimately hired -- Starr said as few as 13 -- will be on the docket when the Assembly's budget finance committee meets with fire department officials to discuss the issue on Wednesday.
Starr says AFD's budget had risen steadily, and was in the red through the end of 2013. It’s the job of the mayor, Starr says, to keep those costs under control.
“We saw it growing and he didn’t do anything about it,” Starr said.
Both Starr and Stumbaugh agree that the overtime issue has to be grappled with now to ensure adequate funding for the department through 2014.
“Last year’s budget is what we used to forecast this year’s,” Starr said. “If we exceeded (budget) in 2013, we need to make sure we get the numbers right for 2014.”
“They kept (the budget) flat for 2014,” Stumbaugh said. “If you just do the simple math, it’s going to be another nearly $2 million.”