OT pay for fire project stopped

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Anne Arundel County Fire Chief Roger C. Simonds has stopped paying firefighters overtime to renovate an old county warehouse, according to an e-mail he sent last week to County Executive Janet S. Owens.

"In light of current events, I have suspended all development of the warehouse that would require the use of overtime [until] further notice," Simonds wrote in the one-sentence e-mail obtained by The Sun through a public records request.

The e-mail, dated Friday afternoon, came two days after the newspaper detailed how, for more than a year, Simonds has paid a crew of at least three firefighters and a fire supervisor time and a half to transform a warehouse near fire headquarters in Millersville into offices, storage areas and a workout room.

The captain supervisor made $42 an hour doing tasks such as hanging drywall.

But the Fire Department's spokesman said yesterday that Simonds had ordered a stop to all warehouse renovations as of July 1, when the department was told it needed to slice $1 million out of its overtime budget as part of the county's cost-savings efforts.

"When we lose that amount of overtime, everything gets placed under the microscope," said Division Chief John M. Scholz.

He said the chief's e-mail Friday was "merely to reassure" the county executive that the unapproved project had been halted.

Scholz said the bulk of the warehouse renovation was completed months ago, and firefighters were installing cabinets and putting other finishing touches on the office space when they were told to stop working.

Simonds turned to overtime for the project after he was denied capital funding by county officials.

Though she has supported her chief, Owens said the request never made it to her and that she did not approve using overtime to pay for the project.

She said it was not a "politically wise" decision by Simonds.

Department officials said they do not know how much overtime they spent on the project, which began in April of last year. Scholz said the department is trying to tally the cost.

Anne Arundel County Fire Department overtime spending has come under scrutiny in recent weeks.

Eight of the 10 highest paid county government employees were firefighter supervisors during the fiscal year that ended June 30. Some nearly doubled their pay.

The department spent $7.2 million on overtime last fiscal year -- nearly $1 million more than its budget and millions more than neighboring counties.

County Council members have called for an audit of the Fire Department's overtime expenditures and policies.

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