The Schenectady Police Department spent more than twice what it was budgeted in overtime last year, but Chief Mark Chaires pointed to irresponsible budgeting as part of the problem.
In 2011, the detectives unit was budgeted to spend $300,000 in overtime, when it usually spends an average of $680,000, he said. The division finished 2011 with $710,000 in overtime spending.
Chaires noted the overtime total was nearly the same as it had been in 2009 and 2010. The only thing that changed, he said, was the budget drawn up by the Schenectady City Council.
“There was a drastic reduction in overtime funds,” he said Monday during the audit presentation.
Chaires changed overtime policies that reduced investigative overtime in 2009 from $900,000 to $680,000. Among the changes: Detectives were asked to schedule raids during their normal shifts and to get approval before working overtime.
“Investigative overtime, that’s discretionary. You can control that a little better,” he said.
But he said there was no way to cut that overtime to $300,000.
The patrol division also overspent its overtime line, which was capped at $500,000 last year. The division spent $1.3 million.
“It’s typically over $1 million,” Chaires said, adding that there’s not much he can do to reduce it. “That’s driven by sick time, comp time.”
There were many vacancies last year, too, requiring officers to routinely work double shifts to keep up the minimum platoon strengths.
In the past, the Police Department has transferred salaries of vacant positions to the overtime budget line, allowing it to balance out overtime with the money they would have spent on a new officer’s salary.
But last year, that wasn’t allowed.
“We just couldn’t balance it out with salary,” Chaires said. “Because of the financial situation, all vacancies, as soon as they left, their salary was taken out of the budget.”
By making such cuts, the city reduced costs in its overall budget by $5.5 million, even after taking into account the overspending by the Police Department, which exceeded its overtime budgets by more than $1.2 million.
While Chaires said he simply spent what he normally spends on overtime, the council’s Finance Committee chairman said he had wanted the chief to cut his overtime usage when the budgeted amount was cut.
“I understand there are certain emergencies. We had the hurricane — you needed more guys that week,” Councilman Carl Erikson said. “But generally speaking, $900,000 in overtime seems excessive.”
Erikson called it a management problem.
“If we know you’re going to need that many man-hours, you plan for it. You staff accordingly,” he said. “There’s union rules in place that prevent us somewhat from doing what’s logical, but my opinion is there should be less overtime, generally speaking.”