Burbank pays out millions in overtime

Despite union agreements that "discourage overtime work," dozens of city employees clocked enough overtime hours last year to add tens of thousands of dollars to their salaries, records show.

The top 10 overtime earners in the police, fire, and water and power departments, on average, boosted their salaries by more than 50% with overtime pay.

The total tab last year came to $10.1 million, although that was down from 13.5 million in 2008. The city was also reimbursed for roughly $2 million for performing tasks above and beyond their regular duties — such as when authorities assist with filming sets, or when utility crews helped with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts in New York.

City officials attributed the tab to a various factors — including the need to cover for employees who are out sick, injured or have recently retired — to maintain minimum staffing levels.

Clocking overtime hours is largely voluntary, said Burbank Fire Chief Tom Lenahan. The top 10 overtime earners in his department, on average, increased their salaries by 66%. The top earner, a fire engineer, added $91,241 to his $113,468 base salary.

"These are people that are willing to work — that means that they are away from their families a large percentage of the time," Lenahan said.

In the Police Department, the top overtime earner, a police officer, added $67,735 to his $98,900 salary. The city was reimbursed for $11,736 of the overtime payout.

"Some people are predisposed to wanting to work more overtime," said Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse.

At the same time, the department is vigilant not to overstretch its employees, he added.

"We have an internal monitoring process to make sure people are fresh and are not going to put themselves and others in jeopardy by incurring vast amounts of overtime within a condensed period of time," LaChasse said.

The overtime cost fluctuation year-to-year is cyclical, and often centers around longtime employees retiring while new ones train to take their place, officials said.

For example, it can take two to four years to train Burbank Water and Power plant operators, said Ron Davis, the utility's general manager. So if an employee retires or quits without notice, that slot is filled with overtime while a trainee gets up to speed, he said.

"I try to anticipate this, but it's hard," Davis said.

Burbank Water and Power overtime spending has dropped $724,000 since 2008. Still, the department spent nearly $2.6 million on overtime last year, $922,500 of which was reimbursable.

The Fire Department struggled with a staffing shortage last year, with the number of fulltime firefighters dropping to 50, Lenahan said, far below the 61 positions accounted for in the budget. The city also postponed the fire academy for new recruits last fall until Gov. Jerry Brown's pension reform took effect in January.

"That just exacerbated our overtime," Lenahan said.

The Fire Department logged more overtime costs last year — $4 million, $725,300 of it reimbursable — than any other city department.

The academy concluded last month, with the city welcoming nine new firefighters.

Additionally, between July and January, 13 fire officials were out on injuries, but the department must maintain 36 on-duty employees at all times. Those absences contributed $440,000 to the department's overtime cost, Lenahan said.

"It's gotten better, we had people return to work," Lenahan said. "But we were hit hard those months."

The top 10 police overtime earners — which includes four officers, a detective, a jailer, three sergeants and a lieutenant — boosted their salaries on average by 53% with overtime pay last year.

Overall, the Police Department spent $3.2 million on overtime last year, with roughly $400,000 of that being reimbursable.

The public works and park, recreation and community services departments spent $213,883 and $88,388 in overtime last year, respectively.

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