Massive Overtime, Large Salaries, Growing Debt, Fire Department Layoffs

On November 29, Newsday reported that in 2013 Long Beach had the highest per capita payroll expense among cities and towns in Nassau County and that 9 of the 10 top overtime earners on Long Island were from Long Beach.  These 9 employees amassed more in overtime in 2013 ($729,000) than they did in base salary ($717,000).  The top 5 overtime earners on all of Long Island were from the LB Beach Maintenance Department.

Surely Superstorm Sandy-related, but a look at Newsday’s payroll archives for 2012 and 2011 shows these same employees had large OT in those earlier periods as well.  The top 7 were paid an average of 60-70% above their base pay in 2011 and 5 of 7 had overages of 30-52% in 2012 (the other 2 – 16 and 24%).  Between 2011 and 2013 a number of these men also had substantial base pay raises.

Over at SBTC, someone posted 2014 salary information, for Police only.  There are 17 police officers above $250,000 and another 14 above $218,000.  We are assuming, but we don’t know if any and how much of, this is the result of the contract arbitration that was settled with retroactive pay.  We fear that still a very large portion is OT.

Turning to the firefighters.  We are generally for reducing headcount whenever and wherever possible.  The reasons for this are the OT habit and the specter of paying employees forever, for decades after they are providing no service to the City.  Pensions to LB employees of 50%-60% based on OT-juiced “ high years”.  The taxes to pay for this are not sustainable for most LBers, let alone the City that can’t fix roads and needs grants or Superstorms to get anything positive done.  We recognize that fewer employees can well lead to a worse OT problem, but we have our doubts, based on history, of more employees leading to less OT — while it should.  That being said, the arguable recklessness of OT in other departments and the fact that it appears, at least, that these jobs were safe at least until the end of the City’s fiscal year in June 2015, based on last Spring’s budget, does call into question how the City goes about such decisions and whether this is basic responsible management or something else.

A few years ago, when Jack Schnirman came to Long Beach with the then new City Council, they pledged to balance the budget and restore financial order to Long Beach.  His public presentations at the number of budget and fiscal emergency meetings identified overtime in the Public Works and Police departments as major culprits in the City’s financial demise.  A few years later, overtime is now at record setting levels and Long Beach has an embarrassing identification in  Newsday.

The NYS Comptroller in his May 2014 report about Long Beach’s budgeting stated that City management had under-represented OT costs.  The City’s response at the time was that it would realize cost saving through internal operating controls.  We haven’t seen it yet.

The City Manager needs to be responsible and to hold those who work for him responsible.  That most certainly includes his Public Works Commissioner and Police Chief.  The City Council members also need to live up to the serious requirements of their position.  It’s not too late, though, for the City Manager and his “boss” – the City Council.

They need to divorce themselves from external influences and rethink the City’s priorities.  What does the City need and what can it afford.  They should promptly audit the payroll records in all departments, starting with the larger overtime ones.  Reducing the City’s overall overtime alone would enable us to invest in infrastructure and not keep kicking the debt can down the road by issuing more bonds.

Mr. Schnirman and City Council, we are looking to you to roll up your sleeves and make tough but sound management decisions to lead the City.  December 16th’s City Council meeting is your next opportunity.

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7 Responses to Massive Overtime, Large Salaries, Growing Debt, Fire Department Layoffs

  1. LBeatle says:

    Just found this blog. Thank you for writing on these issues. How do we get the City council to actually do something? They do not listen to anyone at the meetings.

    • Ed Glister says:

      LBeatle, I don’t agree with your comment that the City Council doesn’t listen. I’ve been to, and spoken at, 7 of the last 9 City Council meetings. And, I find they listen well and act on well-thought-out suggestions.

      My focus has been on Beautification, and they have taken specific corrective actions on various recommendations. (Cleaning various West End areas, involving community in West Beach Entrance design, LIRR clean-up, setting customer service standards for Ticket Takers etc.)

      The bigger problem is that only 5 to 10 people typically show up at City Council meetings. (Tonight was an exception…there was a full house to discuss the proposed lay-off of 5 firefighters).

      LayItBare has it right: people need to focus on key issues and work with the City Council to realize change. Sounds like OT is a good issue to pursue. Show up at City Council meetings and seek to effect change.

  2. LayItBare says:

    They will listen if enough people speak. Go to the CC meeting tonight or in 2 weeks; rally your neighbors and if you cannot make it, send an email to each member and the City manager and get your neighbors and friends to do the same. If a hundred or more or even dozens call or email to complain or express concern/an opinion, and it is repeated over an over by others, they really have to listen. And if you don’t speak, there will be nothing to listen to. Thanks.

  3. JetpackJoe says:

    The supervisors turn their heads on the overtime and Jack signs off on it anyway.

  4. Jay Gusler says:

    If I wasn’t already, I am certainly sealing my fate as a pariah among my fellow City workers by writing what I am about to.

    The present administration is as bad, if not worse, at budgeting as any administration Charles Theofan ever presided over. The current regime has distracted the public with all of the “feel good” quality of life improvements while leaving the serious structural deficiencies in the City’s budgeting and financial practices woefully unattended. The layoff of the five firefighters is but an early symptom of those deficiencies, and – unfortunately – represents a ‘scape-goating’ of the fire department in order to steer the public’s attention away from the failures of the administration in reigning in costs.

    For starters, neither Jack, nor the Council run our City. Rather they all take their marching orders from the unelected Democrat Party Boss, Mike Zapson. Jack and the Council shirk their duty to the public by abdicating to the Democrat Party elite the decision making processes affecting the future of our City. As such, it is futile to appeal to Jack or the Council to do (or not do) anything. Even if you effectively paint the administration into a corner, the ‘shadow government’ will override Jack and the Council and impose its will on them, and by extension, on the residents of LB. That’s our system of government. It always has been, and it always will be. Election Day is just an illusion used to placate the voters into thinking that they actually have some say into who runs this City. Jack and the Council are invertebrate puppets that sheepishly bow to the will of the party insiders. The will of the public means nothing to them except around the time of an impending election.

    Turning to the specifics of the City’s financial death spiral, it really is quite inexplicable that the City suddenly claims it doesn’t have the money to keep these 5 firefighters on.

    The budget was prepared by Jack (and approved by the Council) with the full knowledge that the grant funds would run out in November. In fact – try though he might to gloss over it – Jack was queried about this very subject by the Union while he was in the process of preparing the budget. Jack, in essence, assured the Union that its fears were for naught and that the positions allocated in the budget were fully funded for the entire budget year. Now he proudly waves the “stipulation” (signed under duress by the Union as a condition of the City accepting the grant 2 years ago) and attributes the layoffs to the expiration of the funding and the absence of any opportunity for the City to renew or reapply for further funding. But Jack knew this when he was preparing the budget. The Union sought – and received – reassurance from Jack that the LBFD staffing levels set out in the budget was adequately budgeted for. So, which is it; did the City budget adequately, or did Jack lie to the Unions face? It can only be one or the other.

    Making up budget shortfalls with cuts to public safety should only be done as a last resort. The present City budget boasts a 1.5% reduction in spending for the current fiscal year. How do you retain a spending reduction while making cuts to public safety? This is especially puzzling in light of the hiring spree this administration has undertaken. The City workforce is bloated. We have do-nothing supervisors riding around in City vehicles using City gas. They’re hard pressed to figure out a way to fill their shifts.

    Even the paid ranks within the LBFD are ridiculously top-heavy. We have 10 lieutenants in what is on paper presently a 29 person department. After these layoffs there will be about a 1:1 supervisor to subordinate ratio. There is no span-of-command model in the world where this make sense. Making matters worse, the City promoted yet another lieutenant this past August even though there was no position for that lieutenant in the budget. In fact, to this day, that position still hasn’t been budgeted for. That means that Jack is ‘finding’ money for this un-budgeted position from somewhere else in the budget. Yet he can’t find money elsewhere to prevent any of these layoffs?

    After these layoffs the paid force will operate with four 5 man groups that do rotating tours of 24 hours on, and 72 hours off. 3 of those groups will consist of 3 firefighters and 2 lieutenants, and one group will be comprised of 3 lieutenants and 2 firefighters. On top of this, we have another lieutenant who serves as the Executive Officer of the paid force. This individual is not assigned to a regular tour and pretty much does whatever he feels like doing and works no set schedule. Moving the Executive Officer back to being on a group and the demotion of at least 4 lieutenants back to the rank of firefighter would probably free up enough money to prevent one of the layoffs, but the City isn’t the slightest bit interested in mitigating these layoffs.

    Beyond these obvious moves within the paid ranks, there are significant savings that could be realized elsewhere within the LBFD and in other agencies of City government if, in fact, the City had any interest in really saving money and avoiding these layoffs. The sad reality is that they do not.

    The infamous bank robber Willie Sutton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_Sutton) is widely credited with answering the question of why he robbed banks with the oft quoted “because that’s where the money is”. When it comes to the City budget, the “money” is not in the LBFD. If the City was truly interested in saving money, they need to look elsewhere. The issue here is not identifying savings. The decision to cut the paid ranks within the LBFD is purely a politically driven one. The City is masquerading the decision as one of economic necessity, but until all other efforts at cutting costs are exhausted there is no other way to see this other than as ill-conceived political maneuvering. The City is gambling with peoples lives. I hope for the sake of the public they don’t roll snake eyes.

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