Paul Thompson
Northeast News

How much overtime is too much overtime for a fire department?
It’s an issue that the City of Kansas City, Missouri has been keen to answer for years, as overtime costs have ballooned and budgets have been strained.

The Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department (KCFD) is working in tandem with the City to determine exactly how the department can reduce overtime costs. To that end, KCMO budget analyst Charles Leap joined KCFD Fire Chief Gary Reese in a presentation before the City Council’s Finance and Governance committee on the morning of Wednesday, May 16.

Currently, KCFD has a total of 1,090 personnel between 24-hour and 40-hour shifts, with a department-stated need for 1,121 combined personnel between 24-hour and 40-hour shift employees. Among the options discussed for reducing the firefighter overtime figure – which has averaged roughly $12.5 million over the past three years – is the addition of 48 new full-time employees. According to Leap, that action could result in a cost savings of roughly $28 million over a 10-year period.

That figure is derived by subtracting the expected $2,587,695.05 in expected annual salary for an additional 48 positions – 28 firefighters for almost $1.5 million and 20 firefighter medics at around $1.1 million – from the annual $5,173,980 average estimated overtime costs over a 10-year period.

Leap warned that the figures represent only an estimate, pointing out that there are factors which remain unknown over a 10-year window.

“This does not include increases in pension over the 10-year time period, because we don’t necessarily know what that would look like,” Leap said. “This assumes a perfect world where all leave hours would be optimally used with contractual leave only. There are issues outside of leave that have arisen which can affect costs; again, salary increases and increases in pension, both of which are on the rise. So a true return is unknown.”

Other options discussed for limiting Fire Department employment costs included reducing minimum staff requirements, reducing the number of companies, relocating companies, and making changes to the firefighter schedule.

Another amenable option, according to KCFD Fire Chief Gary Reese, would be making adjustments to leave usage rules for KCFD staff. Reese acknowledged that compensation for modified duty, in particular, is an area where the department can save City funds.

“Modified Duty – Compensable has become a problem, and we’re definitely addressing it,” Reese said. “We’re hoping to see a 20% reduction in the first year, maybe up to 40% as we get people to be more functional in the department when they’re not completely injured – to do office work or light duty desk work – but can’t fight fire.”

In 2016, Fire Department statistics show that personnel utilized 134,022 hours of Modified Duty -Compensable (MD-C) leave. First District Councilman Scott Wagner asked Reese how far the City can reasonably expect to see that figure reduced.

“Do you have an expectation of what you might be able to accomplish in a year, or two, or three?” Wagner asked.

In response, Reese expressed optimism for significant reductions in the near-term, suggesting that the department is hoping to reduce the figure by 20% within a six-month time frame. Reese added that the department has assigned a staff member to monitor and manage MD-C leave usage.

“All that person will do is manage people on modified duty,” Reese said.
Leap followed up on the topic, informing the committee that if the department can ultimately reduce MD-C leave usage by 40%, it will “save” 53,608 hours, or approximately 24 positions for a 24-shift. The potential savings for that level of reduction were estimated at roughly $1.9 million.

With City staff and KCFD in agreement about the need to cut down unforeseen overtime expenses, the next step is determining the best route to accomplish that goal. To that end, committee chair Scott Wagner suggested after the May 16 meeting that he hopes to have a resolution ready for a Finance and Governance committee discussion by June 13.