Minneapolis Fire Dept spent $2 million on overtime in 2012

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Councilmember Hodges and union president Lakosky interpret the increase differently.
The Minneapolis Fire Department's overtime costs skyrocketed in 2012 from the year prior, landing at just under $2 million by the end of December, according to city records.

That's about $900,000 more than 2011 -- a year when city councilmembers criticized then-Chief Alex Jackson for the department's rising overtime bill -- and the dramatic increase is being interpreted very differently throughout the ranks of the department and by elected officials.

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Mark Lakosky, fire union president and perpetual critic of how the city has managed the department's budget, says the sharp increase is evidence that officials cut too deep when they laid off firefighters in 2011. With fewer firefighters to staff the rigs, he says, the department has no choice but to make it up with overtime.

"They shot themselves in the foot," says Lakosky. "Instead of laying off that September, they should have been hiring, which would have negated some of this overtime."

But City Councilmember Betsy Hodges disagrees, arguing she hasn't seen evidence to support a direct line between cutting staff and overtime.

Hodges, also a Minneapolis mayoral candidate, says the increase was caused by attrition and days lost to injuries, and believes the overtime costs will drop in 2013 when the department hires another class of firefighters.

She also isn't alarmed by the $2 million because personnel spending as a whole went down for the department, she says. "When I look at that number, I'm actually looking at overall costs."

Hodges was among the councilmembers who criticized Jackson for his much lower overtime bill, but says her concerns were due to firefighters taking sick days so frequently during the summer and on Saturdays, rather than the year-end-total cost.

Fire Chief John Fruetel, who took over last year after Jackson resigned in January, offered a near-identical sentiment to Hodges in a statement to City Pages:

When discussing overtime it's important to look at how that figure fits in with the entire department's personnel costs and not just as one line item, because when used correctly, overtime can be an effective tool in managing a department's budget and workforce.

While overtime did increase in 2012 compared to 2011, overall personnel costs in the department went down in 2012. The increase in overtime was mainly due to attrition and injuries. The department saw more people retire in 2012 and while the number of injuries were down, the number of days lost to injuries did increase. By hiring a new class of firefighters this January and potentially another class in the fall, it's anticipated that overtime costs will go down in 2013.

This is just the latest in an ongoing debate over the fire department's budget. Firefighters like Lakosky have long argued that the city has hindered the department's ability to do its job properly by reducing staffing levels over the years. Mayor R.T. Rybak, who didn't respond to request for comment Monday, has in previous interviews acknowledged a grim situation in the fire department, but argued he's doing the best he can with years of state-level cuts to Local Government Aid.



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