Agency reveals cost of project


The Anne Arundel County Fire Department spent about $200,000 for an unapproved warehouse project that involved paying overtime to a crew of firefighters for more than a year, the department's spokesman said yesterday.

The tally, requested by The Sun and by County Council members who have called for an audit of the department's overtime expenditures, includes materials and technical work done by the county's facilities management workers, said Division Chief John M. Scholz.

He said the department paid about $134,000 in overtime for the project, which amounts to less than 2 percent of last year's $7.2 million fire overtime expenses.

The Fire Department exceeded its overtime budget by about $1 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, spending millions more than neighboring agencies. Thanks to overtime, 23 firefighter supervisors earned more than County Executive Janet S. Owens in the last fiscal year.

Owens declined to comment yesterday, a spokeswoman said.

The county executive has said she will likely appoint a team to evaluate the department's overtime spending. She has called Fire Chief Roger C. Simonds' decision to use overtime for the warehouse project "not politically wise," though she has otherwise defended him.

Simonds turned to overtime after capital funding for the warehouse renovation was denied by county officials. Owens said she did not authorize the fire chief to use overtime for the project.

The Fire Department is now using about 38,000 square feet in an old county-owned warehouse near fire headquarters in Millersville for storage, office space and training workout facilities.

The warehouse renovation, which involved about 16,000 square feet, began in April last year and was stopped July 1, Scholz said. But two days after The Sun reported the project, Simonds sent an e-mail about it to the county executive.

"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 message.

Although fire union officials said a fire captain was paid overtime for the project, Scholz said yesterday that it appeared the highest-ranking fire employee working overtime on it was a lieutenant, who made $41.91 an hour. A captain has about the same hourly overtime rate.

Scholz did say that the maintenance unit's captain -- as well as others in the department's small maintenance unit -- assisted with the warehouse renovation during their regularly scheduled hours.

County Auditor Teresa Sutherland said yesterday that she has requested further details from the Fire Department about the warehouse project, as well as other aspects of its overtime spending.

Scholz said yesterday that the total number of overtime hours worked on the warehouse project was not available, saying the total dollar amount was calculated from individual overtime payment slips.

Pam Jordan, spokeswoman for the county Department of Public Works, said the Fire Department obtained the proper permits for electrical work and the installation of a heating and air-conditioning system. That work was done by outside contractors, Scholz said, adding that the money spent on contractors was factored into the total cost of the project.

Jordan said she had no way of calculating yesterday how much the project would have cost had it not been done through Fire Department overtime. She said the engineering and architectural work alone would cost $25,000 to $50,000.

"We believe there was a cost savings by doing it this way," Scholz said of the project. "And we believe we did the best we could with the resources we had available."

Sun staff writer Ryan Davis contributed to this article.

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