COLONIE — In 2019, the town spent nearly $600,000 more than it budgeted for overtime with the vast majority of that being spent on public safety.
According to financial documents, the amount of overtime included in the 2019 budget was about $3.1 million and the amount spent was about $3.7 million. The exact amount before rounding is $585,649 that was spent over what was budgeted.
Formulating a municipal budget is not an exact science and the cost of everything in any given year is estimated based on the prior year. Overtime is particularly difficult to estimate because it is the most susceptible to unpredictable variables such as criminal occurrences, emergency calls and snow storms.
“The three big areas of OT are police, EMS and winter road maintenance and they become what they become. We can’t say ‘no, you can’t go on that police call, or you can’t go on that ambulance call or you can’t plow that street,’” said Acting Comptroller Chris Kelsey. “I would love to see every snow storm happen during the week, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.”
As in years past, the police department, by far, was the most expensive department in town and that is, in part, because its members earned the most overtime. In 2019, the department, which includes communications and of about $16.2 million, which was increased to about $16.9 this year.
The uniformed officers and command staff worked more than 37,000 hours of overtime at a cost of about $2.1 million. In the initial 2019 budget the town allocated about $1.8 for overtime.
It breaks out as follows:
• 11,015 hours of OT worth $485,000 in communications,
• 10,925 hours of OT worth $584,192 in patrol,
• 2,652 hours of OT worth $2,652 in road sergeants,
• 9,735 hours of OT worth $624,837 in police detectives,
• 2,459 hours of OT worth $159,179 for traffic division,
• 265 hours of OT worth $14,035 for administration,
Other areas of overtime in town government include the Emergency Medical Services Department where workers accumulated 14,079 worth of overtime worth $605,943. There was $400,000 budgeted in 2019.
In the Highway Department, there was $207,100 budgeted in 2019 and $354,955 was spent and in the building and fire services, $61,875 was budgeted and $93,833 was spent.
Three departments spent less than expected in 2019: Pure Water had a budget of $86,000 for overtime but spent just $73,606, while the Latham Water District had a budget of $273,780 for overtime but spent $259,890.
“We try to keep a handle on it and I know they try to keep a handle on it but when something comes up with public safety you can’t say no,” said Supervisor Paula Mahan. “We plan the best we can but there are situations that come up that we don’t have any control over. Some things you just can’t predict.”
Overtime was down a little in 2019 compared to 2018, Kelsey said, which came as a pleasant surprise. He thought it would be a bit higher since the Police Department did get a 2 percent raise and overtime, be it time and a half or double time, is based on that amount.
Mahan and Police Chief Jonathan Teale made much about hiring new officers to bring the total to 115, which is the highest in recent memory. Also, in 2019, the EMS had more fulltime employees than it ever has in its 30-year history. More full time employees should, in theory, mean less overtime but Mahan said the number of calls are up and that is largely out of her control.
Crime is also down, which should, in theory, lead to less police calls but Mahan said the number of calls for police and EMS are up.
“We are not just dealing with our town population, we have a tremendous amount of pass through traffic with everyone passing through here to get from point A to point B. We have a population of about 83,000 but on any given day we have 250,000 cars going through our town,” she said. “We also have the largest senior population in the Capital District and as the town ages there are more EMS calls.
“We have always put public safety first and it has to be a priority.”
Lt. Robert Winn, a spokesman for the department, said overtime is something that is monitored on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. First the supervisor must approve the OT before it is worked, and the department hierarchy has goes through a monthly report and then it is re-evaluated on an annual basis.
Also, he said, in at least two instances, the officers overtime is reimbursed by federal organizations like the FBI for work on different task forces that focus on things like drugs and computer crimes.
In addition, there are outside entities, like churches who need traffic controlled on Sunday’s, that pay the town for police services and that is often at overtime rates.
To the town’s highest paid employee, patrol officer Mark Mauro, Winn said he retired last year but his salary is higher than most because the town paid him for vacation and sick time he did not take while working.
The FBI reimbursed the town for $20,000 of Investigator Robert Wiley’s OT, Winn said, for his work on the Drug Task Force. Wiley earned the most OT in town.
“Overtime is a necessary evil and we do monitor it constantly,” he said, adding the number of OT hours in 2019 is less than in 2018.