COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Every year the city balances its budget just like you do at home, but an NBC 4 investigation revealed the city of Columbus doles out millions of dollars in overtime every year. In 2017 more than $32 million dollars went into overtime pay for city employees, mostly for public safety.
It is a number that has been increasing over the last six years.
Our investigation looked at every city of Columbus employee and found some workers are making more than double their yearly salary in overtime. Union leaders say that’s causing some to be overworked and that can cause problems.
Ohio law mandates at least 23 operators must be taking calls at all times for the city of Columbus in the 911 dispatcher center. It’s why dispatchers pull in some of the highest overtime numbers. The highest paid in overtime in 2017 was a 911 dispatcher who made $76,466 in overtime which more than doubled their annual salary of $60,340.
It’s a high number but not uncommon within the Department of Public Safety. According to records obtained by NBC4 of the 32 million dollars spent in overtime, about 75% went to the Department of Public Safety, which includes 911 dispatchers, firefighters and police officers.
“Some are working more than 80 hours a week,” said Jason Pappas, the Fraternal Order of Police President in Columbus. For officers, Pappas said overtime is a constant concern, happening at a time when the city is seeing a record number of homicides, “You can’t work people until they drop, there is a physical impact and an emotional impact and all those things come into play,” Pappas said.
Police officer overtime made up nearly 60% of all overtime for the Department of Public Safety in 2017. Pappas believes Columbus police are overworked and understaffed, “It appears we are just going to pay overtime as opposed to hiring more officers,” Pappas said.
Overtime spending by the city of Columbus is increasing, in 2012, the city spent about 25 million dollars in overtime. By 2017, that number had climbed to more than 32 million.
In comparison, Charlotte, North Carolina, a city nearly identical in population to Columbus, spent about $18.2 million in overtime for city workers for the fiscal year of 2017. The city of Charlotte employs about 8,000 people, while the city of Columbus employs roughly 10,000. Here in Ohio, the city of Cincinnati employs about 6,000 people and in 2017 spent $18.7 million dollars in overtime on city employees according to city staff.
“You will have spikes in certain overtime,” Said Joe Lombardi, the Director of Finance for the City of Columbus. Lombardi calls the overtime hours normal and within budget for the city of Columbus.
In some cases according to the city, it is often cheaper on the taxpayer to pay overtime, rather than hire a new employee, which would include training and benefits, “There could be a case made that it would be cheaper to pay overtime, than to pay a new employee,” Lombardi said.
According to Lombardi, it is up to each Department to submit overtime requests to the city for the year. Weather events, security concerns, and holiday celebrations may cause overtime to spike depending on the year and situation.
As for public safety and police, Pappas says the status quo is a no win situation and he would like the city to add at least 200 police officers, “I think we are at a point where we have stretched our officers really thin, and we have to do something to correct that,” Pappas said.
Recently Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther announced the city will be adding 30 more police officers to CPD in 2018.
As for overtime, according to Lombardi, the city normally plans to budget about 30 million dollars in overtime per fiscal year and for now it appears that will likely continue in 2018.