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Overtime for Fire, Police Nears $20 Million

With Extra Hours, Some Captains' Pay Surpasses Duncan's

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page GZ18

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan might be the most powerful person in Montgomery County, but he's hardly the best-paid.

Duncan's annual earnings of $143,600 rank 28th among county employees -- behind those of most of his department heads and six firefighters.

Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Romer is being paid $208,000 this year. (Ryan Anson For The Washington Post)

The large amount of overtime pay that can be made by firefighters and police officers -- for some more than $50,000 in addition to their annual salary -- catapults many into the ranks of the county's top earners, according to records provided to The Washington Post.

When overtime pay is included, firefighters and police officers make up half of the 371 county employees making $100,000 or more.

As of Nov. 4, Fire and Rescue Services had paid $9.8 million in overtime, and the Police Department had paid $8.2 million.

Fire and police officials attribute their overtime spending to lean staffing in jobs that require coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Leaving a fire station, patrol area or 911 call center with vacancies because of absent employees could be dangerous to workers and the public, they say. Many also rack up overtime attending court to help prosecute cases or doing specialty work, such as digging out disaster victims across the country.

For example, Fire and Rescue Capt. Robert H. Stojinski made a salary of $95,200. But he has also earned $64,100 in overtime this year, much of it as a member of the county's Urban Search and Rescue Team. Stojinski traveled to Florida this year to assist hurricane victims, fire officials said.

Stojinski's total income of $159,300 makes him the 12th-highest-paid employee in the county so far this year. In addition to trumping Duncan, Stojinski will make at least $24,000 more than State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, who supervises 116 lawyers and staff members, and $4,000 more than Arthur Holmes, who oversees 1,400 employees as head of the Department of Public Works and Transportation.

While firefighters make the most in overtime pay, police officers are working extra hours, too. One officer, Kimberly Jones, earned more in overtime pay -- $65,000 -- during the first 10 months of this year than she will from her annual salary of $57,600, according to the records. Jones, like other police officers with additional training, works extra hours in the county's 911 center, where high turnover has left a chronic shortage of emergency call-takers and dispatchers, police officials said.

The amount of overtime pumping up the paychecks of some police officers and firefighters is one of the most striking findings in a Post review of who makes what in county government.

Among the other findings:

• Three hundred and seventy-one people, or 5 percent of full-time county employees, make six figures, including overtime pay. The median salary, excluding overtime, is $55,470, one of the highest in the region.

• At the other end of the pay scale, 16 percent earn $40,000 or less, excluding overtime.

• Of those employees earning salaries, excluding overtime, of $100,000 or more, one in three are women. Information about race and ethnicity was not available.

• Among departments with more than 10 employees, the Department of Technology Services has the highest median salary: $83,288. The lowest-paid jobs are in the Department of Liquor Control, with a median salary of $41,880.

The Post obtained more than 70,000 pay records for government workers in 14 jurisdictions in the Washington area. However, the information was too varied to be compared. Some jurisdictions included part-time workers, while others did not. Some provided overtime pay and bonuses.

The data for Montgomery cover 7,551 full-time workers for this calendar year, as of Nov. 4. It does not include employees of schools, of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission or of the Housing Opportunities Commission, which oversees low-income housing. It also does not include employees in city governments, such as Gaithersburg's, Rockville's and Takoma Park's.

Had school employees been included, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast would have clinched the top spot in the county, with an annual salary of $237,800. Bruce Romer, the county's chief administrative officer, who oversees all government operations, comes in second with a $208,000 salary.

Other top salaries include those of Carolyn Colvin, director of the Department of Health and Human Services ($174,000); Police Chief J. Thomas Manger ($171,600); Fire Administrator Gordon Aoyagi ($168,700); finance director Timothy Firestine ($168,600); and corrections chief Arthur M. Wallenstein ($165,200). Some of these administrators lead the largest departments in county government. The Police Department is the largest, with 1,450 employees, followed by Public Works and Transportation (1,412), Health and Human Services (1,193) and Fire and Rescue (1,032).

Joseph Adler, the county's human resources director, said the county must offer top supervisors such salaries to recruit experienced managers nationwide. Montgomery recruitment efforts must compete against the federal government, Fairfax County and the private sector. High salaries are offered in the region in general, Adler said.

"To get them to even take a look at us, we have to offer salaries that are competitive," Adler said. It is not unusual in the Washington region for some top administrators to earn more than county executives or mayors, according to the Post review of payroll records.

But the department heads don't earn overtime pay. When overtime is included, the list of top earners fills with fire officials, rescue workers and police officers.

Fire and police employees earn overtime for filling in for absent colleagues or when an incident, such as a fire or criminal investigation, extends beyond their shift. Code Orange terrorism alerts in the nation's capital also lead to more overtime, county officials said.

Paying employees overtime to fill in often is cheaper than hiring people because it saves the cost of background checks, training, equipment and benefits, county officials said. Romer, the county's chief administrative officer, said department heads are instructed to keep overtime costs to a "bare minimum." Supervisors must sign off on overtime hours, Romer said.

Public safety agencies nationwide use more overtime than other departments because of the round-the-clock nature of emergency work, Romer said.

"The combination of there being an absence of cases of abuse and having strong management controls gives me a strong comfort level that we're adequately monitoring the [overtime] system," Romer said.

However, County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg), who chairs the council's public safety committee, said using overtime pay as a long-term solution to staffing shortages is too expensive. Higher hourly wages for overtime pay should be reserved for emergency events and filling vacant spots temporarily, Andrews said.

Andrews said the council has asked the Police Department, the Division of Fire and Rescue Services, the Sheriff's Office and the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation to determine whether they simply need more people to meet everyday demands. Andrews said he worries about employees in physically and mentally demanding jobs burning out.

"I don't have a problem with the salary levels of firefighters and police officers," Andrews said. "I am concerned about excessive use of overtime to fill unfilled positions. If the [staffing levels are] too low and overtime is being used to make up for that, that's a problem. It is more expensive in the long run to pay overtime than to have the correct-sized staff. "

Aoyagi said the County Council voted to save money last fiscal year by having two, rather than three, new recruiting classes. That left the Fire and Rescue Service with 30 to 40 fewer people. Add to that losses in employees to retirement and attrition, fire officials said, and the department has 76 fewer employees than it did last year.

"It was a conscious policy decision not to have that third recruit class," Aoyagi said. "We don't have extra people to take out of the field for anything, so we have to pay overtime."

Many of the top overtime earners, such as Stojinski, are members of the Urban Search and Rescue Team. Stojinski went to Florida for at least a month to help coordinate hurricane rescue efforts, fire officials said. Unlike in the private sector, where most business travelers are paid only for their regular working hours, the Urban Search and Rescue Team members are paid 24 hours a day for every day they're deployed. The pay clock starts ticking the moment the county receives federal paperwork asking for the team's help. The federal government reimburses the county for personnel costs.

Fire officials said their employees earn every penny of their paychecks. Most firefighters start out at $34,800 annually, they said, and don't reach six figures -- even with overtime pay -- until they hit the upper ranks, often with 15 or more years of experience.

"Firefighters in my mind don't get paid enough for the dangers they face, but we do pay a competitive salary," Aoyagi said. Those working overtime, he said, "are working hard for the money they're earning, and they are spending time away from their families."

Fire department supervisors can earn overtime, but police captains and assistant chiefs -- like most county employees who work in management -- aren't eligible.

Manger, the police chief, said his department pays about $8 million in overtime each fiscal year to make up for having too few officers. Officers are routinely asked to work extra hours to fill in for colleagues who are sick, on vacation or in training, he said.

Montgomery has 1.2 police officers for every 1,000 residents. The national average, Manger said, is 2.4 officers per 1,000 people.

"We're a very lean department," Manger said. "Because we have so many fewer officers, we have to make up the staffing shortages in overtime."

Montgomery, like counties and cities nationwide, also is struggling to keep its 911 center fully staffed, Manger said. It now uses police officers with extra training to work as dispatchers and call-takers during their off-duty time, Manger said. A cursory examination of some top overtime earners among police showed that most work in the emergency dispatch center.

"When you see the number of arrests go up each year, when you see the number of calls for service [increase] and population growth, and we're trying to meet that with the same number of officers, I think it makes perfect sense that your overtime costs will go up," Manger said.

Officers who write tickets or make arrests while working the evening or overnight shifts earn overtime while attending court during the day.

"What's the alternative? Tell officers don't make arrests so they don't need to go to court to keep overtime costs down?" Manger said. "I won't do that. I want my officers out there making arrests."

The police department's staffing also plays into another big consumer of overtime. The county doesn't have enough crime to warrant fully staffing detective units around the clock, Manger said. If a homicide, fatal collision or rape occurs at 3 a.m., investigators get called at home.

Manger said he doesn't believe officers are manipulating the system to make extra money. He said he keeps a close eye on overtime expenses.

"The names of the people who come up as [top] overtime earners are very often the hardest working people on the police department. . . . They come out from home, on weekends, at night," Manger said. "They rack up some overtime money, but these individuals work their tails off. I feel sorry for them because they're never home with their families. No one is getting that kind of money from some kind of scam."

Research Database Editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company