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Toledo Fire and Rescue logs high overtime costs

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    Gear for about 40 firefighters hangs ready for use Friday at Station No. 5 in Toledo. The Toledo Fire Department has already spent most of its overtime budget for the year.

    THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
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    Toledo firefighter Miguel Castillo, left, and Lt. Eric Ellis work together to check the radios inside the diving gear for the water rescue unit Friday at Station No. 5 in Toledo.

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    Firefighter Paramedic Rian Whiteny takes down information for a potential call while working on Life Squad 1 Friday at Station No. 5 in Toledo.

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    Toledo Fire Lt. Eric Ellis, left, and firefighter Miguel Castillo work together to check the radios inside the diving gear for the water rescue unit Friday at Station No. 5 in Toledo.

    THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
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  • FIRE17p-5

    Toledo Fire Lt. Eric Ellis, left, Cpt. Michael Posadny, center, and firefighter Miguel Castillo work together to check the radios inside the diving gear for the water rescue unit Friday at Station No. 5 in Toledo.

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The Toledo Fire and Rescue Department used nearly 96 percent of its overtime budget — $2.27 million in overtime costs — six months into the year, but city finance officials said they’re not too worried about the department’s overall financial health for 2018.

The department budgeted $2.37 million for overtime costs in 2018 and as of June 30 had spent $2.27 million, according to the most recent figures provided to city council.

Pvt. Sterling Rahe, the fire department’s spokesman, said the costs have been driven by recall overtime, which is when a firefighter is called into work on a day that he or she was scheduled off. Recall overtime has been high because of retirements, firefighters on union release to negotiate a new contract, and firefighters working to train the latest fire class. The department must maintain a minimum daily staffing of 110 line firefighters, Private Rahe said.

“We’re very aware of it. We try to work within those parameters,” he said.

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BLADE BRIEFING: Toledo Fire and Rescue log high overtime costs

The fire and rescue department’s overall budget for labor is $42.25 million for the year, and officials have so far spent $24.11 million — about 52 percent of that amount. Melanie Campbell, the city’s interim finance director, said she’s keeping an eye on the overtime costs but believes they’ll be able to balance the department’s budget at the end of the year.

“It’s not a concern for us, but it’s something we’re monitoring,” she said. “In their budget there are some other areas where they might be trending under budget, which might minimize the impact of the overtime.”

Neither she nor Pvt. Rahe could estimate exactly how overtime costs will shake out by the end of the year, but both said they don’t expect overtime will continue to be so high now that the new fire class is done with training and a union contract is nearly finalized. 

“We’ll have to firm up final year-end projections with fire, but I don’t think it will continue at the same pace,” Ms. Campbell said.

At a budget hearing last month, then-Chief Luis Santiago told council members that ongoing contract negotiations with Toledo Firefighters Local 92 was costing more than expected in overtime. The union’s three-year contract expired Jan. 1.

“I’m not sure that we anticipated we’d still have six people off for negotiations,” said Mr. Santiago, who has since retired. “We anticipated that would have been completed, we would have hoped, quite a while ago.”

Private Rahe said the new chief, Brian Byrd, and the negotiating team are “very close” to settling the contract.

Local 92 President Jeff Koenigseker said the team has a tentative agreement with the city and now must present the proposed contract to the union’s membership for a vote. Once approved, city council must vote to ratify it.

Mr. Koenigseker said the negotiation process has been longer than in years past, something he attributed to the mayoral election coinciding with the contract’s expiration.

“The change in the city administration plays heavily into that delay,” he said.

Councilman Tom Waniewski, who chairs the budget oversight committee, said he isn’t too worried about the department’s overall budget but said he’ll be interested to see what type of pay raises result from contract negotiations.

“There’s no doubt they will be over their overtime budget. They’ve expended 96 percent of their yearly budget in overtime in just six months,” he said. “If we’re giving an increase and we don’t have a plan to bring their overall budget into compliance, that does concern me.”

The Toledo Police Department through June has spent about 54 percent of its $2.8 million overtime budget, and just over 50 percent of its $52.5 million total labor budget, according to city financial figures.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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