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City fire, police OT over budget

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Police Department has reduced overtime expenses this year, but the city still needs about $19 million to cover the cost of keeping officers on the beat after their shifts end.

The Fire Department also needs a cash infusion to pay for unexpected overtime, about $7.6 million, which brings the city's total budget for unexpected overtime for police and fire in the fiscal year that ends June 30 to $26.6 million.

Money to cover the unbudgeted overtime will come from various sources, but about $16 million will come from savings the city has realized from a freeze in hiring and purchases, according to Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Mayor Sheila Dixon.

City officials have focused on curtailing overtime expenses recently, and Dixon warned police last year that they "don't have a blank check" when it comes to overtime. Clifford said that police overtime this year is down 17.5 percent compared with last year, when the department racked up about $29 million in overtime costs.

The Police Department asked for a $5 million overtime budget, an amount that turned out to be insufficient, Clifford said. As a result, officials with the mayor's office are working with the department's fiscal office to come up with more realistic overtime estimates for next year's budget, he said.

Overtime for firefighters is up by about $2.5 million, from $11.6 million in the last fiscal year to $14.1 million in the current year, Clifford said. The increase is due in large part to vacancies, he said. The city has held two consecutive fire academies in an effort to hire new firefighters, and Clifford said next year's overtime budget for the department should be smaller.

"We're filling those holes now," Clifford said.

The Police Department is also continuing to work on limiting overtime, he said. Officers have been warned that they need a supervisor's approval before they work overtime, Clifford said, and a change in officer deployment has helped to cut overtime costs. In addition, members of specialized teams have been used to back up patrol units in times of need, he said.

The Police Department's administrative division has also cut back on overtime, from $3.3 million in fiscal year 2007 to $2.7 million this year, Clifford said.

A reduction in the number of the city's homicides and shootings has also contributed to the decrease in overtime costs, Clifford said. There have been 78 homicides this year, compared with 109 at this time last year. Shootings are also down, from 255 at this point in 2007 to 184 sthis year. "Overtime costs track exactly with when we started to see a reduction in shootings and homicides," Clifford said.

Bills to cover the overtime costs were introduced at a City Council meeting last night. They will next be discussed at a hearing of the Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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