Still-soaring OT tallies raise red flag 

Some city workers are still piling up huge amounts of overtime, including one firefighter who’s earning what equates to about five hours of overtime a day so far this fiscal year, despite attempts to cut it down.

“You’ve got one individual who has already earned over a thousand overtime hours year to date. How does something like that happen?” Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said, expressing amazement.

As of Jan. 8, 49 employees have exceeded a 624-hour cap on overtime for this fiscal year, which began July 1. One firefighter has 1,053 hours of overtime. In the calendar year 2009, the firefighter had a salary of $99,451 and earned $107,079 in overtime.

“That’s five hours of overtime a day, every day for the last 193 days. How does that work?” Elsbernd said during Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing on the city controller’s overtime report.

Of the 49 who were paid more than 624 hours of overtime, their hourly pay ranged from $26.81 to $74.62. Most were firefighters, law enforcement officers and transit agency employees.

As The City faced budget-deficit years, Mayor Gavin Newsom and members of the Board of Supervisors adopted legislation about two years ago placing the 624-hour cap on the number of allowable overtime hours per employee. Exemptions are granted to that limit.

During the hearing, the Fire Department could not speak to the specific case. “You don’t need to tell me now. But maybe if you could get back to me and let me know how an individual is able to work that many days, every day, and that many hours a day — that’s a very strong individual,” Elsbernd said.

Later in the day, Fire Department spokeswoman Mindy Talmadge told The Examiner that “this is a very hard-working, highly skilled and dedicated employee.”

She said he has “specialized certifications” and skills used to “support our Bureau of Equipment.”

“This person’s willingness to volunteer to work overtime prevents the SFFD from having to implement mandatory hiring,” she said.

Talmadge also noted that the firefighter’s overtime includes 13 days on two different strike teams that responded to the Bonny Doon fire and the Los Angeles fire. A third party paid for the expense, she said.

Other reasons for the overtime include his filling in at the Department of Emergency Communications, she said.

Deputy City Controller Monique Zmuda said the cap provision is working. Since the cap was adopted, “there are many, many fewer employees that are receiving overtime in excess of [624 hours],” Zmuda said.

Overall, The City’s overtime spending is projected to decrease this fiscal year by nearly 2 percent, compared to last fiscal year, from $142.1 million to $139.8 million.

“For next fiscal year’s budget, you will see an increasing pressure to reduce overtime,” Zmuda said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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