City Council calls for audit on skyrocketing Austin FD overtime

FILE photo: Austin Fire Department truck. (KXAN Photo)
FILE photo: Austin Fire Department truck. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — City council members approved an audit of the Austin Fire Department’s skyrocketing overtime at a scheduled Thursday meeting.

“I’m not looking for abuse. That is not the purpose of this audit. I just want to be very clear we’re trying to figure out, to make sure that we as a city have the right solutions for our problem,” said Council Member Allison Alter at the meeting.

It’s the latest development following a KXAN investigation into city overtime pay. We first revealed last month Austin city workers rake in more overtime than some of the state’s largest cities. AFD logged nearly one million overtime hours since October of 2014, the most of any department.

Council members say their efforts to get answers about ballooning overtime in AFD have gone unanswered. Now, they’ve asked the city auditor get to investigate.

“The answers we got were just not sufficient,” said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, in an interview before the Thursday meeting. “We feel that a lot more work needs to be done and having an independent voice in the auditor’s office is the way to go.”

The audit will include:

  • How the AFD collective bargaining agreement affects overtime.
  • What policies, staffing models, rules or practices are increasing overtime.
  • What increased the average per hour overtime rate.
  • How shift-trades and overtime requests are handled and monitored.

AFD attributes its overtime issues to a lack of applicants, mass retirement, and a union contract allowing firefighter to claim overtime even if they’ve taken vacation in that same time period.

The department’s top overtime earner is a fire battalion chief who added $86,000 to his salary of $120,000 last year. AFD said that’s because of the job vacancies and his overtime rate is higher than a firefighter.

The City Council recently approved an additional $3.5 million for that department’s overtime, which is well beyond what was originally budgeted.

Also in response to our investigation, leaders say overtime will be a “major topic” as they plan the next city budget.

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