Reducing police overtime next year in an effort to reduce a proposed budget increase will be very difficult, the police chief told City Council on Tuesday.
The draft 2009 budget proposes cutting overtime in the police budget to $900,000 from more than $1 million this year.
Overtime hours have steadily increased in recent years because the department’s staffing has remained level while the number of calls has risen, Chief Edward Moore said.
Officers are likely to work 25,000 overtime hours this year; in 2004, they put in 18,262 extra hours.
More officers have been on injury or extended medical leave in recent years, meaning that others have to work longer hours to cover those gaps, Moore said.
“If 2009 is as difficult a year as 2008, … then our proposed overtime budget is going to be very difficult to meet if it stays as it is,” Moore told the council during a presentation.
The department is expected to exceed its overtime budget — $931,045 — this year, too.
Just three years ago, the city paid just $500,000 for police overtime — half of what it expects to spend this year.
The Department of Public Safety is the city’s largest department, spending about $20 million a year.
Training, special events, transporting prisoners and attending court hearings all require officers to work overtime, Moore said.
He noted that the staffing levels are OK for the winter, spring and fall seasons but not enough for summer, and that’s when most of the overtime hours are used.
The department does work to limit overtime, he noted. “Members of the traffic safety unit are not allowed to take any vacation during the six weeks of the racing season.”
But the unpredictability of the job can make it difficult to keep hours under control, he said.
Figuring out how many officers to put on a shift is often an educated guess.
And a big incident can take every officer working.
Moore reminded the City Council of the day last year when Officer Adam Baker’s throat was slashed as he responded to a call to pick up a mentally ill patient.
Many officers were called to the scene to investigate, interview witnesses and secure the landing area for the helicopter to take Baker to the hospital, Moore said.
“Every one of them was put to work,” he said, noting that the incident happened 10 minutes before afternoon shift change, so day shift officers stayed late and night shift officers started their day at the scene.
Baker recovered and is back at work.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, residents spoke against proposed job cuts throughout the city’s departments.
Resident John Kraus suggested furloughing all employees for a day each quarter. He said doing so would save taxpayers more than $400,000.
Workers would lose money, but at least they’d keep their jobs, he said.
Resident Lew Benton, who is also a city employee and a former commissioner of public safety, suggested that Saratoga Springs, with its increasing property values and relative affluence, can afford to pay a little more in property taxes.
“All honest work has dignity, and little is more demeaning than a loss of dignity that comes from losing your job,” Benton said.