Cincinnati city OT spending at all-time high - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

FOX19 Investigates

Cincinnati city OT spending at all-time high

2014: Cincinnati workers racked up $17.7M in taxpayer-funded OT. Up $3.1M in 3 years (Photo: FOX19 NOW/Jody Barr) 2014: Cincinnati workers racked up $17.7M in taxpayer-funded OT. Up $3.1M in 3 years (Photo: FOX19 NOW/Jody Barr)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

Cincinnati city workers put in some of the highest overtime hours in 2014, driving some salaries to more than $100,000. The city blames the payouts on under-staffed departments, but a FOX19 NOW investigation found the city's employee count is the highest it's been in three years.

The highest overtime-earning departments are emergency services and the city's public works departments. City salary records show 2014 overtime spending totaled $17,779,062. In 2013, the city spent $14,326,251 and in 2012 the city spent $14,604,150 on workers who put in extra hours.

HIGHEST COST TO TAXPAYERS

CINCINNATI POLICE DEPARTMENT

The top five highest overtime spenders were the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD), Cincinnati Fire Department (CFD), Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) and the city's Public Services. Collectively, those departments coat taxpayers $16,195,307 in 2014.

Cincinnati Police salary records show the city paid 74 percent of the department overtime in 2014. Those hours helped drive some officers' salaries to more than $100,000. City records show 80 CPD employees earned salaries of more than $100,000 in 2014. CPD's overtime payout last year totaled $6,194,672.

[List: 2014 city salaries]

The highest overtime earner in 2014 was Mark Longworth, who works as a police specialist. Longworth earned $53,919.25 in overtime pay, driving his total earnings to $125,119. Longworth's base pay is set at $71,200, according to city salary records.

“I won't say I'm comfortable with that number, but what we will say is we're confident we have our overtime allotment being properly scrutinized,” said CPD Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. Blackwell took over as chief in late 2013. At the time, the department was down 177 officers and hadn't hired since 2008.

[List: Salary breakdown by department]

Blackwell said the overtime problem for his department comes down to a lack of officers working the city's streets. Since Blackwell took office, he's hired 15 officers. A new recruiting class of 56 will graduate from CPD's academy on Feb. 27, but Blackwell said it would take another 90 days of field training before those officers could reliably fill vacancies and alleviate the overtime hours worked.

The overtime in CPD is voluntary, according to the chief, and officers are never forced to work it.

“While we certainly are mindful of OT being high—or up there—we certainly also feel that we monitor it closely and officers are not forced to work,” Blackwell said.

The overtime amounts inside CPD show many officers are working an average of 50 hours a week—some are working far more than that. Blackwell said the department monitors officers for productivity and efficiency to make sure their extra hours are not interfering with their ability to perform their normal duties.

CINCINNATI FIRE DEPARTMENT

Cincinnati Fire Department racked up $3,248,265 in overtime spending in 2014. City salary records show 86 percent of the department earned overtime. The highest overtime earner was Lt. Joseph Rosemeyer, who earned $15,464 in 2014.

A total of 50 fire department employees earned more than $100,000 in 2014 with Chief Richard Braun earning the highest salary at $150,287.

The top 10 overtime earners racked up between $11,000 and $15,000 in extra pay during 2014.

METROPOLITAN SEWER DISTRICT/GREATER CINCINNATI WATER WORKS

Collectively, these two city department's accounted for $4,740,808 in overtime payouts in 2014. By percentage, 47 percent of MSD employees earned overtime compared to 58 percent of GCWW employees.

The highest overtime earner in MSD was plant operator Thomas Keeton whose base pay is $47,593, but earned another $41,290 in overtime in 2014. In GCWW, the highest overtime earner in 2014 was Lela Moustafa who earned $50,449 in overtime while earning a base salary of $44,070. Moustafa is a water operator and works as a pipe tapper.

MSD Deputy Director, MaryLynn Lodor, explained Moustafa's overtime, “She is a very hard worker and is willing to do that overtime and rarely will refuse it. There are many people that do.”

Another reason some sewer and water workers pulled in large overtime dollars in 2014, Lodor explained, is because of record numbers of water main breaks across the city. Only certified and qualified workers can work on the city's infrastructure, Lodor said, which means those workers with specialty credentials are depended on to make the repairs.

The overtime is given on a volunteer basis, Lodor said.

Unlike police and fire, Lodor said she can't staff her division for peak work demands. Doing so would cost taxpayers much more than the overtime budget MSD and GCWW has now. In the Tri-State, Lodor said, the biggest threat to the overtime budget is extreme cold and the 100 days during the summer months when the area gets the most rainfall.

“We're not going to staff for those 100 days. We're going to staff for a normal day, but then when we get those wet weather events or those really low temperatures where water mains are breaking, we're going to have to rely on overtime. And, overall, that is a lower cost solution than staffing for peak needs,” said Lodor.

PUBLIC SERVICES

The city's Public Services Department totaled the fifth-highest overtime spending at $2,011,562 in 2014. The highest overtime total among all employees was $24,877—earned by Thomas Streicher.

In 2012, an Ohio Auditor report suggested the department cut its overtime spending. The auditor's office told the department it needed to be more in line with the overtime industry standard of six percent of its gross pay.

Doing so, the report showed, would save the department $796,000. The overtime spending, the auditor's office wrote, equaled the same as 24 full time positions.

In 2009, PWD spent $1.4 million in overtime. That spending climbed to $2 million when the city closed its books on Dec. 31, 2013.

The records the city provided show 85 percent of PWD employees earned overtime in 2014 with seven employees making more than $100,000. The highest paid PWD employee was Marashkeisa Smith, the department's deputy director. Smith made $114,336.

“I'D BE SHOCKED IF THERE WASN'T SOME ELEMENT OF ABUSE”

On the job for only five months, Cincinnati's City Manager Harry Black said he's already working to shave the city's overtime spending. “I'm going to always say the overtime number is too high because that's just the way I'm wired,” said Black.

Black said overtime spending for a city's emergency services is always high—it's something he said he saw in Baltimore and Richmond, where he held administrative positions dealing with city finances.

The problem of overtime reached its peak across the country in 2009, Black explained, as the country was dealing with the recession. As governments made job cuts, more demands were placed on the remaining workforce. Those demands to fulfill services often resulted in employees racking up overtime, Black said.

“Government—in general—was in a survival mode,” Black said, “Certain things still had to take place. We still had to protect citizens, we still had to put fires out.”

In Cincinnati, Black said he thinks he could shave the $17.7 million in overtime spent in 2014 by a quarter, “I think where we are now, we recognize and acknowledge—collectively—it's too much.”

In CPD, Black said the city has to fill vacancies to alleviate the demand on officers to fill the holes with overtime work. Another problem, Black said, the city has to shorten the amount of time officers are spending on light duty assignments. Those assignments are creating more work for other officers.

In CFD, the department has failed to keep up with retiring firemen and attrition, according to Black.

“We know that we're going to always budget some element in the budget for overtime, because I think that's the responsible thing to do,” Black said. “The key is, we want to right size what that ought to look like. But, we have to do that in a very strategic, intelligent way.”

Meetings with city department heads is underway. Black wants department heads to review every job within their divisions and look for ways to be more efficient and whether more staff is needed or staff could be cut. “All the parties involved understand overtime—although it's unavoidable—we must be able to demonstrate and document that it is what it should be. Nothing more. Nothing less,” Black said.

Often hidden within government spending is often some sort of abuse. That's something Black said he's ordered his department heads to look out for, “We need to make certain that we're constantly looking at it and that we are on top of it and that—whatever we're doing—is rational and that we're weeding out any potential for waste and abuse,” Black said.

“I'm not going to lie to you and tell you there is no abuse—I don't know of any in particular—but, based on my knowledge, I'd be shocked if there wasn't some element of abuse,” Black said.

Related:

2014 city salaries

Cincinnati salary breakdown

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