WBEZ is reporting the Chicago Fire Department will blow past its overtime budget by more than $20 million this year, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is asking for another big boost in overtime spending for 2014:
Total overtime payouts will hit around $43 million by the end of 2013, fire department spokesman Larry Langford told WBEZ Friday. That’s more than double the $20 million Emanuel’s budget set aside for Chicago Fire Department overtime in his 2013 budget.
Chicago Fire Department leaders may face questions about those hefty overtime payments on Monday, when they appear before aldermen to defend their $575.7 million budget for next year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed spending plan calls for nearly $35.4 million in overtime spending, a 77 percent spike over this year’s budgeted amount.
In testimony before the City Council on the mayor’s proposed 2014 budget, fire fighters union president Tom Ryan has said that overtime has skyrocketed in part because hundreds of firefighters have retired and haven’t been replaced. Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago blamed legal issues for delays in hiring, despite a backlog of 10,000 applicants.
The fire department joins the Chicago Police Department in spending millions in overtime pay at a time when the city budget is being squeezed from all directions. The CPD is expected to spend $93 million in overtime this year, despite calls from some aldermen, community groups and the police union to hire more officers.
On Friday, Ald. Rick Munoz (22) made the call for more officers and less overtime explicit:
"We need to staff up the Police Department so they can start preventing the crime and not chasing the crime," said Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, part of a group of aldermen who want the city to spend $50 million to hire 1,000 more cops.
"Talk to any management consultant, and they will tell you an organization the size of the Police Department should have a 3 to 31/2 percent overtime budget," Munoz said during a break in the hearing, noting that the Police Department has a proposed budget next year of about $1.29 billion. "We're looking at almost a 10 percent overtime budget here."
Chicago Police chief Garry McCarthy has said repeatedly that the department has enough officers to do the job, and paying overtime is preferable to hiring new recruits at full benefits.
For both the fire and police departments, however, the amount of departmental overtime seems to be unsustainable.
The question is how long the city can go asking its first responders to meet their obligations and protect the public primary by working longer hours, particularly when future budgets are going to have even less room for millions in overtime spending.