Audit: SD Fire Dept. Could Afford Hiring More Staff vs. Overtime Costs - NBC 7 San Diego

Audit: SD Fire Dept. Could Afford Hiring More Staff vs. Overtime Costs

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    SDFD Could Afford Hiring vs. Paying Overtime: Audit

    The San Diego city auditor finds that hiring more staff will soon become as affordable as paying overtime for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. NBC 7's Gene Cubbison reports. (Published Monday, Dec. 8, 2014)

    San Diego's overworked firefighters are looking at the prospect of big changes in their paychecks a few years from now.

    City auditor Eduardo Luna figures that hiring more staff will become as affordable as paying overtime.

    Luna’s findings are based on projected cost savings from Proposition B, which took effect in July 2012, putting all new city employees except police officers into 401(k) style retirement plans, as opposed to traditional “defined-benefits” pensions.

    "It's going to get to a point when we have more post-Prop. B firefighters on our payroll,” said San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Javier Mainar. “It'll then become less costly to hire additional firefighters than it will to work them overtime."

    Overtime pay now accounts for more than a quarter of the San Diego Fire Department's payroll costs.

    Its ten highest-compensated members made between $191,273 to $247,873 in fiscal year 2013.

    Firefighters have been on rotating, mandatory overtime since then, and it's wearing them out.

    "There's a sweet spot to hiring,” said Alan Arrollado, President of San Diego City Firefighters Local 145. “We don't want to over-hire because the minute we have too many people, that's essentially wasted money.”

    However, Arrollado cautioned in an interview Monday, “We don't want to be short, because the workload upon the current employees is too great. So it's a constant balancing. And the fire department analyzes its staffing every month."

    Unless contract negotiations or other factors intervene, Mainar said the tipping point where it's a fiscal toss-up between new hires and overtime costs is projected at about five years, maybe less.

    As for one of those other factors?

    "What happens if you make those changes to hire additional people, and litigation is successful to overturn Prop. B?” Mainar told NBC 7. “So a lot of variables there -- so we have to be very careful about when we pick that point."

    Said Liam Dillon, who’s extensively covered local public safety issues for Voice of San Diego: "It really comes down to dollars and cents, and that argument's been muddled for years. This is just another step in figuring out which ultimately makes more sense for the city financially. And I'm sure there are political aspects to it as well."

    The issue will be discussed by the San Diego City Council Tuesday afternoon, and while it may be some time before moves are made, it’s expected there will be an intense focus on how any changes are written -- and rolled out.