Overtime costs for the Madison police and fire departments next year are expected to increase at a 10-year rate that is two or three times higher than the growth of city and departmental budgets overall.
Police overtime costs in 2020 are expected to be 68% higher than they were in 2011, or $3.7 million, while fire overtime is expected to be 92% higher, or $1.5 million. Most of the latter increase is attributable to an additional $400,000 set aside for overtime next year.
By contrast, police and fire budgets overall are set to increase by 35% and 32%, respectively, between 2011 and 2020, and the city’s overall budget is set to increase by 37%. Police and fire services make up the largest parts, by far, of city general fund spending.
Former Police Chief Mike Koval complained for several years about the shortage in patrol staffing, and with the council so far rejecting attempts to add more positions next year, the department on Feb. 9 will move 12 positions back to patrol from neighborhood officers and other more proactive, specialized positions.
Koval resigned abruptly at the end of September, in part due to frustration with the lack of additional officers. Interim Chief Victor Wahl on Wednesday pointed to patrol needs and large events such as the Shake the Lake Independence Day celebration and Halloween’s Freakfest as two main factors driving increased overtime.
Wahl said covering minimum patrol levels “often results in patrol officers who have worked an eight-hour shift to be held over for an additional four hours, or to come in early before their shift,” and that it’s become more difficult to find volunteers to work the large events, “given the hours that many work during their normal duties.”
Overtime-related fatigue “does not help decision-making or the quality of interactions with the public,” he said, and can hurt staff retention.
Staffing woes in the fire department have come to a head more recently, but reflect longer-term changes, according to Fire Chief Steven Davis.
The city has opened two new fire stations since 2014, but hasn’t fully staffed them, resulting in a shortage today of 10 to 12 positions if overtime is to be kept in check. To make up for the shortage, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway allocated the extra $400,000 for overtime in next year’s budget and transferred up to six positions from fire investigations and training to ensure minimum staffing levels at the department’s 14 stations.
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“The city is at a point now that they need to hire more people for the Fire Department,” Davis said.
In a statement, Rhodes-Conway said she believes in “truth in budgeting” and “the amounts included in the 2020 budget reflect the projected overtime costs in both police and fire for the upcoming year based on current staffing models and the existing labor contract.
“I have consistently stated future budgets may include additional public safety staffing,” she said. “Analyzing current overtime trends and how to reverse those trends will (be) part of all future conversations regarding public safety staffing needs,” she said.
City Council president Shiva Bidar and vice president Barbara Harrington-McKinney did not respond to requests for comment, although Harrington-McKinney did sponsor a budget amendment, which was never taken up by the city Finance Committee, to add six more police officers next year. The committee late last month rejected amendments to add three officers and 10 firefighters.
On Friday, council members released amendments to add 10 firefighters and either three or six more officers. They will be taken up Tuesday when the council begins finalizing the city’s 2020 capital and operating budgets.
In a blog post Wednesday “to correct some incorrect narratives floating around our community” about police funding next year, Ald. Keith Furman, 19th District, pointed out that despite not adding any new officers, the department’s budget is still increasing, and officers are getting a contractually negotiated 3.25% base wage increase.
He also pointed to the long-term decline in crime in the city — a trend that’s been occurring nationwide since the early 1990s. Madison police have pointed to an internal patrol staffing report and the increasing complexity of calls and demands on officers as reasons more patrol officers are needed.
Furman in his blog said Madison, like other police departments nationwide, is having difficulty retaining officers, and says some reasons for this could be lower starting pay in Madison than in some other area departments, overwork, a strong economy, “negative views on police” and a possible reluctance among those of the millennial generation to enter police work.
He declined to comment on police overtime figures.