By DAVID A. MANN
What happens when the money runs out?
That question was posed by Jeffersonville City Councilwoman Lisa Gill in relation to rampant spending on overtime — up to $60,000 per month — by the city’s fire department. Council members met with department leaders with the aim of curbing that spending Monday night.
Following nearly two hours of discussion, the board agreed that four firefighters should be hired to fill soon-to-be-open ranks within the department. And Fire Chief Eric Hedrick pledged to move forward with administrative changes that could save money.
However, Hedrick said the problem likely isn’t solved and the department could still be using up to $25,000 per month on overtime even after the new hires are in place.
The overtime problem came to light at the beginning of the month, when Hedrick asked the council to create four new positions on the department to correct the staffing issues. The council offered suggestions as well, including buying out employees using leave time, schedule changes and closing down a truck.
One issue discussed Monday night is whether leave should be counted as time worked when computing overtime. For instance, if someone is off on a Monday for a holiday, works the rest of the week and then gets called in for an extra shift on a Saturday, that extra shift is considered overtime. Hedrick said the department has calculated overtime that way for as long as he can remember but it’s actually contrary to the fire union contract. According to the contract, which was agreed upon by both the council and the union, the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act should be applied in those situations, meaning that the extra shift would be straight time, not overtime.
“Why are we not enforcing what’s written here,” said Councilman Matt Owen.
Councilman Bryan Glover and Councilwoman Connie Sellers both said the contract language should be adhered to, as well.
“This seems to be one clause, that we agreed to, and would help us,” Councilman Ed Zastawny added.
Members instructed Hedrick to begin enforcing the contract the way it’s written. A motion to that effect was offered but died for lack of a second, as members thought it was redundant since the language was already there.
Union President Travis Sharp conceded that the language was there and would be tough for the union to fight.
“It is what it is,” he said when asked about it.
Councilman Nathan Samuel suggested Hedrick go through the contract and find any other violations.
Further, Hedrick said he planned to take three fire inspectors — which currently handle arson investigations and fire prevention efforts — and put them on suppression duty. Two of the fire inspectors would be moved temporarily while the other would be a permanent reassignment.
Finally, Councilman Dennis Julius asked Hedrick to try and rein in the amount of leave time being used, saying he believes there are eight to 10 firefighters in the department that will do everything in their power to use days off.
“It’s gonna be imperative [for Hedrick] to get his arms around this abuse,” Julius said.
Hedrick said all sick leave or light duty days being used are backed up by doctors notes.
“Abuse is very minimal,” Sharp said.
A few other suggestions put on the table included closing McCulloch fire house or moving forward with Hedrick’s plan to hire an additional four more people. No action was taken on either suggestion.
Hedrick said he would assess the changes agreed upon during Monday’s meeting. By June, he said, he should be able to measure the impact.
“It’ll certainly help,” he said.