Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue is already $65,000 over budget in overtime costs and there’s still two months to go in 2013.
That was the message Chief Scott Weninger gave board members this week as they began looking at the district’s 2014 budget.
The board expects to debate the budget in detail at a work session Oct. 28. A final budget is anticipated to be passed in November or early December.
In preparation for the budget discussion, Weninger told the board that to date, the district has spent $774,135 in overtime pay, which is 109 percent of what was budgeted for overtime in the 2013 budget.
“We’re $65,000 over budget right now,” he said. “At this rate, we’ll be $200,000 over budget by the end of the year.”
Weninger said the district has been over budget in overtime for the past five years. He said much of that is due to the fact that the district’s regular staffing calls for 25 firefighters on staff each shift. The minimum is 19.
With only 74 firefighters currently working in the district, and three shifts per day, that creates a situation where sickness and leaves mean the district has to rely on overtime to meet its minimum staffing. Overtime is paid at time and a half in the district.
“If we have nine or 10 off on a day, we have to utilize overtime to maintain staffing,” he said.
The options that the district has, in order to reduce overtime, is to hire more firefighters, or reduce the minimum daily staffing, he said.
Board chairman Dave Fergus agreed something has to been done.
“It’s clear the issue is that we have to hire more firefighters to reduce overtime,” said Fergus. “Or we have to reduce the minimum staffing overall. We need to look at both of those two things.”
Ronny Smith, vice president of Local IAFF 2819 who attended the meeting said the district needs to do is an overall cost analysis.
“To me it should be hard to get overtime, if the staffing model is right,” he said.
Smith said the union is committed to staff each engine or ladder truck with at least three firefighters, rather than the two as is often done. The national standard is four, Weninger said.
“We’re committed to the safety of the 73,000 residents in this district and to doing the best job that we can,” Smith said.
Fergus said serving the public is always what’s upfront in his mind.
“We support great service to the community,” he said.
“But if we only have so many dollars, what do we do?”
Weninger said he appreciated the discussion and thought the district was heading in the right direction.
“There’s just a finite number of dollars,” he said. “We have to find the best way to spend them.”
While the cost of hiring a full time firefighter including salary and benefits is about $120,000, board members said they wanted to consider that, along with minimum staffing numbers during the budget discussions in two weeks.
Smith said the district hasn’t done a complete wage and salary and staffing review for several years. He said by doing that, the district could determine where the overtime is being spent and whether staffing levels are adequate at each of the ranks within the department. Weninger said the district has kept statistics on overtime, but only as a line item and didn’t know what ranks were having the most overtime.
“We have a program where we can divide that all out and we will,” he said.
Weninger also told the board that he has been working on a re-organization of staff that will allow for more resources in the district’s IT department. Overall, it will mean about $30,000 in additional salary costs, but no new full time positions, only additional help in IT support.
Weninger said the district plans to submit a balanced budget spending no more than it will take in. But he said, it will be difficult, and this is the fourth year in a row that the district’s revenues will be down due to lower assessed valuation of property in the district.
“We’re going to have to do more with less,” he said.
In another matter, the board approved converting a community meeting room at Station 51 into an exercise workout room for the firefighters at the station. The current workout space is too small and doesn’t allow for more than a couple of firefighters to work out at once, said a battalion chief from the station. Cost of the remodel, including some electrical work is expected to be about $10,000.
Community meeting rooms will still be available at Stations 56 and 41.