Joint boards transfer funds to cover overtime

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NAUGATUCK — Overtime spending drove the fire department to a deficit of about $270,000 during the fiscal year that ended in June.

The Joint Boards of Finance and Mayor and Burgesses reconciled that and other shortfalls Tuesday using money from the borough’s contingency fund and surpluses from other departments. As of Tuesday, final tallies had not come in for some accounts.

In May, the joint boards also transferred nearly $135,000 from contingency to the police department to cover overtime and payroll expenses for about six weeks until the end of the fiscal year. The police department did not use all the money, however, and was able Tuesday to give about $82,000 back to contingency.

Overtime from Hurricane Sandy and February’s blizzard accounted for about $60,000 of the fire department’s overtime, said Fire Chief Ken Hanks.

The fire department also spent $90,000 paying firefighters to cover extra shifts after two firefighters retired around the new year, Hanks said. Hanks had anticipated those retirements would come in June, but then a renewed contract was approved that allowed firefighters to retire after their best three calendar years.

“Their replacements didn’t go online until the end of June,” Hanks said. “That’s like one guy being out for a year.”

About $20,000 was spent to fill the shifts of firefighters who took unanticipated sick leave, including one who was out for two months, Hanks said.

More than $160,000 in fire overtime came from the regular payroll account due to an accounting error, Hanks said. When firefighters turned in requests for overtime pay, sometimes the money ended up coming from the regular payroll account instead of the overtime account, he said.

The error was corrected after a meeting with Controller Robert Butler, Hanks said.

The fire department budgeted $2.5 million for payroll during the fiscal year that ended in June, and $800,000 for overtime.

The high cost of firefighter overtime is a perennial issue for the joint boards, who have concluded in years past that paying overtime is less costly than hiring more firefighters.

The street department also overspent its snow removal budget by $291,000 and its winter overtime budget by $118,000. The borough is expecting the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse about $275,000, Butler said.

Based on conservative estimates, Mayor Robert Mezzo said last week that the borough ended the fiscal year with a surplus of about $500,000. The Board of Education ended with a surplus of about $230,000, which could go into a reserve fund for technological upgrades to schools, Mezzo said.