New Canaan Board of Finance goes into OT with police/fire departments
New Canaan Police Chief Leon Krolikowski made a pledge to finance officials at last Thursday's town budget hearing -- to cut the department's overtime costs in 2015. Krolikowski told the Board of Finance that unforeseeable circumstances, such as long-term injuries, vacations and emergencies, have driven the costs up over the last year in unexpected ways, but that he is preparing to do what it takes to cut those costs.
"We'll bring (overtime) down, but the question is what is the right number and what services will we need to pull out of if our overtime budget becomes too controlled and too lean," Krolikowski said. "We're all taxpayers, we're all neighbors, we all want to save the community (money). We'll figure it out soon."
Members of the Board of Finance, however, are concerned that there was a rise in overtime charges in the police and fire departments, as well as other departments in town, despite the addition of new positions to limit staffing gaps.
"The fact of the matter is that we've got a system, whether it be police or fire, that encourages taking advantage of days off, and we have to fill shifts at a more expensive rate of time and a half or whatever," First Selectman Robert Mallozzi said at the meeting.
Krolikowski is requesting a total operating budget of $5.8 million, which represents about a 3.31 percent spending increase over the previous year, and about $375,000 in overtime in 2016.
The police department expects to reduce overtime this year by about $97,000, the chief said.
"We're feeling the pressure on overtime and we feel it every day, and I track it every day," Krolikowski said. "Right now, we're having some staffing issues. I have three officers out injured -- two of them since mid-April last year."
Krolikowski said a scheduling software system brought online in fall 2014 is allowing him to identify spikes in overtime as they occur and try to head it off through scheduling differently.
In 2014, the town hired three new, certified officers to maintain the department's full-time staffing at 47 officers.
While the department was able to trim $110,000 in training costs by hiring certified officers who'd graduated from police academy, Krolikowski said the injuries have required hiring to fill more shifts.
Krolikowski said he also is unsatisfied with a lack of guidance on his requests to the town's insurer on police disability claims, the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, for guidance and information on how to prevent common injuries.
None of the three officers currently injured have been cleared medically for even "light duty" desk jobs, Krolikowski said.
"Pretty much from the date the officer is injured, CIRMA manages the entire case and make all the decisions and there is a very specific set of workman's compensation laws in Connecticut they have to follow," Krolikowski said. "There is very little room for an employer to make decisions."
New Canaan's 47 unionized officers are working under the conditions of a contract that expired in June 2013, and the town's contract is currently being taken to a state arbitration panel.
The fire department, meanwhile, is requesting an operating budget of $2.06 million for the coming year, a 2.5 percent increase, with the Board of Selectmen trimming $50,000 from an overtime request of more than $840,000.
Members of the board debated whether it was necessary to budget $276,590 to cover available vacation days or if they could budget less with the expectation firefighters won't use that much time off in the coming year. Last year, the fire department returned $200,000 surplus in overtime to the town.
If the town sets a lower total for the time off, it would contribute to a lower mill rate for town taxpayers, they said.
"It is responsible for you to say they could take $276,000 in vacation, but the question is, do we fund $225,000 of it and we don't raise those taxes?" Board member Robert Spangler said.
Hennessey said that would be fine if the board would be comfortable boosting the amount if firefighters use a larger number of days off.
"In years past, coming back to the bodies for additional funding has always been a problem," Hennessey said. "We were accused of mismanagement of poor business practices. We tried to budget realistically and we've been very fortunate over the past couple of years to be trending down with our expenses. If we come back and tell you we think we`ll be running deficits in these two or three lines, that would be fine."
Mallozzi said he was frustrated at the rate overtime had grown since 2007 -- from $412,000 to above $800,000 this year -- despite expanding the number of firefighters per shift from four to six.
Hennessey said the increase in normal staffing had "drastically reduced" the need to call back firefighters to cover shifts when fires or other emergencies occurred from about 40 events a month to one or two.
"This is a discussion philosophically this Board of Finance really needs to embrace going forward," Mallozzi said. "We went to six men to help limit overtime. ... Now we put on six guys and we're at $844,000 in overtime. And that's just not acceptable."
The fire department also requested $49,000 to replace worn out helmets, coats, and other personal protective gear, $10,000 to replace broken chainsaws and other tools, and $10,000 for dry hydrants and cistern systems for remote parts of town.
The budget hearings will continue this Thursday with a joint meeting of the Town Council and Board of Finance to discuss the Board of Education's $98 million budget, including funding for the Saxe Middle School Auditorium replacement.
That project is now projected to cost more than originally thought, with an estimated cost of $10 million.
Martin Cassidy, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/martincassidyst