Fuller staffs, fewer injuries big helps, department chiefs say

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Overtime expenditures in 2016 for the Waukesha police and fire departments rounded out the year well under budget, breaking a trend in recent city history for such expenses.

According to chiefs from both departments, full and relatively healthy staffs are to thank for the change.

Outspending the police and fire overtime budgets has become such an important issue in recent years that the city's finance committee in 2015 requested quarterly updates on the departments' overtime budgets to try to rein in the problem, which at one point was so pronounced the fire department was ordered to reduce its minimum staffing level by one person. The committee reviewed the 2016 yearly spending data at a meeting in January.

No staff reductions or suspension of services were necessary last year, according to city documents, though spending on dispatch services for the police department again significantly outpaced the money budgeted for them.

None of the fire department's overtime expenses came in over budget, according to a report by City Finance Director Richard Abbott.

Fire expenses

The fire department's total overtime expenses in 2016 – about $308,000 – represented a drastic decrease in spending. The department's total overtime budget was about $340,424.

In a memo to the finance committee, Fire Chief Steve Howard said the 2016 figure represented a roughly $213,000 decrease from the department's overtime spending in 2015.

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He attributed that dip to having a full staff. (The department added six full-time firefighter positions.)

"By returning the fire department's staffing level to 32 persons per shift, we have been able to increase operational efficiencies and meet our overtime projections," he wrote in the memo.

Police expenses

According to a report from Police Chief Russell Jack, spending on the department's dispatch services, at around $97,342, more than doubled the $40,000 dispatch budget in 2016.

That is not particularly surprising because, according to city documents, by the end of March the department had already spent $21,224, or more than half, of the budgeted amount.

Dispatch services were also very costly to the department in 2015. According to city figures, that year the department set aside $30,000 for overtime dispatch expenses, but ended up spending $94,316.

Staffing dispatchers has been an issue at the department, Jack has said. But there are currently two in training, with another set to retire in March, according to Jack's report.

However, despite the dispatch spending, the department only used about 82 percent, or roughly $440,429, of its $538,694 overtime budget. That is another significant difference. According to city figures, the department outspent its overtime budget in 2015 by about $94,000.

Jack, in his report, also attributed the dip to having a full staff, with relatively few long-term injuries and a low number of retirements, and fewer political visits – especially during an election year – than anticipated.

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