By NICK SLOAN, firstname.lastname@example.org
KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- Overtime costs for public safety are up in a number of cities in the Kansas City metro area.
For the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, the story was the same in 2013.
Overtime pay for public safety units in Wyandotte County was over $5 million in 2013, according to a presentation at a special commissioners meeting Thursday evening.
UG Mayor/CEO Mark Holland said the overtime pay has helped contribute to raising the public safety costs in Wyandotte County.
"Since 2006, all non-public safety departments have been held firm at a 1.3 percent increase in overall spending," Holland said to begin the presentation. "(Spending for) police is up 14.7 percent, fire is up 33.9 percent and the sheriff's department is up 54.7 percent."
The Wyandotte County Sheriff's office racked up over $2.1 million worth of overtime pay, most of which was due to operating the Wyandotte County Jail and basic patrol services.
Wyandotte County Sheriff Don Ash said the overtime costs can be attributed to a shortage of staffing in the sheriff's department.
"The remedies would be to increase the full-time equivalent," Ash said. "We're paying deputies time-and-a-half to do work that full-time employees could do. It would put us in a better position to respond."
Ash laid out a number of long-term options for commissioners to consider. The plans included various combinations of hiring more deputies, increasing the size of the Wyandotte County Jail and changing how the prison is operated when it comes to schedules.
Ash said hiring five more employees to the amended budget alone would save Wyandotte County about $253,000 in overtime costs.
Following Ash's presentation, Kansas City, Kan., Fire Department Chief John Paul Jones made his presentation on the department's overtime hours, which totaled about $1.3 million.
Like Ash, Jones pointed to staffing shortages. The department currently has 14 vacancies and he said that number could grow up to 25 later on this year as retirements are announced. Jones also warned a dramatic reduction in overtime could lead to a reduction of services by the KCK Fire Department.
One issue discussed during the presentation was the amount of fire companies the department has. The fire department has 22 companies, something that concerned Holland.
"The 22 company issue is something we have to take a hard look at. We don't have the opportunity to staff down here," alluding to the mandated amount of fire companies required in the union contract both parties agreed to.
Holland also questioned Jones on the escalating costs of overtime.
"In 2006, overtime was near zero," Holland said. "In 2013, the number was over $1.3 million. What changed between 2006 and 2013?"
After Holland called for an "immediate reduction in overtime costs" for the department, Unified Government Commission Mike Kane defended Jones and the KCK Fire Department - while accusing Holland of targeting the department due to political reasons.
"You are doing a great job," Kane said to Jones. "You've been beaten down in the last couple of months. It looks like a political point."
The fire department's union endorsed Commissioner Ann Murguia during the 2013 mayoral election in Wyandotte County. Holland denied the accusation, calling for a point of order. After the brief flare-up between Kane and Holland, Kane continued his defense of the department's spending.
"I want every single personnel in the department to be safe. I want our community to be safe. If we can eliminate money, I know you would have done it."
While overtime costs in the sheriff's department and fire department increased in recent years, the amount of overtime costs has decreased the past two years in the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department. Changing language in the union contract was one of the contributing factors behind the costs, according to police officials.
Although public safety costs are the highest for the county, they are also the most successful, according to a recent citizens survey taken earlier this year.
Over 85 percent of Wyandotte County approved of the job the fire department is doing. Just two percent of Wyandotte County residents are dissatisifed with the KCK Fire Department.
Two-thirds of survey participants believe the police department is doing a satisfactory job. Over 80 percent are satisfied with ambulance services, which are also handled by the KCK Fire Department.
Later this year, the Unified Government is expected to do a complete study on the efficiencies of all three departments.
The costs for each study would be around $200,000 to perform.