AUSTIN (KXAN) — Despite reservations among several of its members, City Council passed an ordinance Thursday freeing $3.5 million to use for Fire Department overtime pay that exceeded the department’s initial budget.
AFD has said the overtime was needed because the department has operated with a high number of vacancies while being required to maintain “four-person staffing” for emergency vehicles, among other issues, according to city documents.
Despite the ordinance’s passage and the need for the payment, several council members said they were uneasy and the underlying causes of the overtime haven’t been fully addressed.
“I wish there was the luxury for all of us to vote no on something like this…”
“I wish there was the luxury for all of us to vote no on something like this because none of us like the fact that…the number is so large,” said Mayor Steve Adler at the Thursday Council meeting. “We have to, I think, approve this so that we can pay for the work that has been done and ensure that we continue to have fire protection in the city.”
In early May, a KXAN investigation revealed Austin spent more than $71 million on employee overtime in fiscal year 2016, which was an 11 percent increase over the previous year. Since October of 2014, AFD has racked up nearly a million hours of overtime, which is the most of any department in that period.
AFD said a 2014 U.S. Department of Justice consent decree has contributed to the department’s struggle to fill its ranks.
- You can read the full investigation here.
“I’m conflicted because last year we had the same type of conversation about the overtime…I’m just afraid that the same conversation will come up next year, and there is no way for us to prevent that from happening,” said Council Member Ora Houston. “This has been a problem that has been going on for four years now.”
A majority of the Council approved the ordinance, but council members Houston, Ellen Troxclair, Jimmy Flannigan and Alison Alter voted against it.
Passage of the ordinance was postponed last week, after Alter sought more detailed information on AFD’s overtime use.
Alter previously told KXAN excessive overtime is more than a fiscal issue. When public safety employees, like firefighters and police officers, are working too many hours it can put them and the public at risk.
City officials told KXAN they will continue discussing the city’s use of overtime during budget talk in the coming months.