Ballooning overtime prompts Austin City Council questions

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city is seeking a $3.5 million fund transfer to help pay ballooning Austin Fire Department overtime, and the financial maneuvering has council members asking city management for more details that can explain the costs.

There are “a lot of unanswered basic questions with respect to overtime and AFD,” said City Council Member Alison Alter at a city council meeting Thursday. “[City Council Member Jimmy] Flannigan had questions that were put into the Q and A that were not yet answered, and I’ve had several questions that I’ve been asking for weeks that have not yet been answered.”

A KXAN investigation published Monday revealed the city of Austin racked up a total of $64 million in overtime in fiscal year 2015 and $71 million last year — an 11 percent increase from year to year.

The police and fire department were chief among city departments in terms of overtime pay. From October 2014 through mid-April of this year, AFD has tallied nearly 1 million hours of overtime, according to city payroll records and department budgets requested through the Texas Public Information Act.

KXAN also found five city employees, including four from the police department, more than doubled their salaries with overtime pay last year.

On Thursday’s agenda, city council was set to vote on an ordinance that would transfer $3.5 million from the budget stabilization reserve fund to the general fund to pay for AFD overtime.

“There is a normal amount of overtime that a city the size of Austin has to have, and this year the fire department is going to go over how much was allocated through that budget,” Alter said. “They need to have this budget amendment so that they have the authority to make that payment.”

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, Flannigan posed questions to city management about AFD overtime. He asked, how many AFD overtime hours this year have been triggered by using leave time in the same pay period as overtime, and what percentage of firefighters have used leave and overtime in the same pay period?

The city said it does not have readily available data, and it will take until next week to formulate those answers.

In an April interview, an AFD leader acknowledged the department’s high overtime and attributed it to recruitment struggles, mass retirement, and the structure of a union contract, among other issues.

APD said its overtime is due to court appearances, staffing events and officers working late on daily duties, among other things.

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