Police Department projects $14 million in spending overruns


Largely because of overtime costs, the Baltimore Police Department expects to exceed its budget by $14.3 million, one of the most glaring cost overrun projections the City Council will examine this week.

The department's midyear budget estimates offer the first detailed look into the city's tight finances during the 2003 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

In addition to police, five other departments are set to present budget projections to the council Thursday and Friday.

"We make them explain where they are and whether they are over or under their budgets," said Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., chairman of the council's Budget and Appropriations Committee. "And we ask how they plan to balance their budgets" by June 30.

Last month, Mayor Martin O'Malley called for 2.5 percent cuts in most agencies' expenses, hoping to avoid exceeding the city's $2.1 billion spending plan. Without the cuts, he said, the city could be $4 million to $10 million over budget.

The projected overspending by the police and fire departments equals a combined $16.5 million. But city officials expect spending cuts in other departments to bring the budget back into balance.

"The problem I have with that is, it gets to the point where we only have so many dollars," Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said. "All the other agencies have tightened up, and now the Police Department has to do the same."

In addition to the Police Department's overtime costs, which are estimated at $21.8 million overall, the report partially attributes the projected $14.3 million deficit to payment of civil judgments, increased cell phone usage and rental expenses for covert vehicles for detectives. The report, to be presented Thursday, also details overspending for fuel and equipment for helicopters, clothing allowances for detectives and other supplies.

More than 92 percent of the department's $287 million budget consists of salaries, benefits and uniforms.

Eliminating positions would "have an immediate and deleterious impact on crime reduction initiatives," the report states.

Police and city officials would not comment on the report because the projections have not formally been released and could change before the hearings this week.

The Police Department report states that the new commissioner, Kevin P. Clark, had instituted a "strict overtime review process" and had started a program to reduce overtime paid to on-duty officers making court appearances.

The Fire Department, which projects $2.25 million in overspending for the fiscal year, is also reducing its overtime costs.

Its 1,700 firefighters and paramedics have to consistently work overtime to ensure 24-hour coverage of the city.

But Chief William Goodwin Jr. implemented a policy this winter that offers firefighters the option of taking compensatory time instead of overtime pay.

"This adjustment has made some impact on our expenditures and is approaching $1 million that would have been paid this fiscal year," the report states.

The report also says that "through successful contract negotiations, by this time next year the overtime issue will be under control."

Union officials scoffed at both assertions. "That's being optimistic," said Stephan G. Fugate, president of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association.

The Fire Department's two unions -- for officers and for firefighters -- are challenging the new compensatory time policy in arbitration. At the same time, the unions are engaged in contract negotiations that end March 1.

If the department loses the arbitration, it may end up paying the overtime costs it saved with compensatory time.

The department also announced in its report that it is launching the Baltimore City Fire Foundation to draw contributions from businesses and philanthropic organizations to help purchase of equipment.

Some of the other city departments reporting this week are not as financially strapped.

The Department of Public Works' report shows that it may end the fiscal year $10.6 million below its $367 million budget.

And the Office of Transportation is projecting a slight surplus depending on snow removal costs.

Neither department would comment until the reports had been presented to the council.

Other agencies that will make reports this week are Recreation and Parks Department and the Finance Department. Their projections were unavailable.

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