(Memphis) As the city of Memphis hashes out the next budget, council members are looking for ways to save money.
That prompted WREG-TV to look at one big expenditure: the cost of overtime.
We found some city employees are racking up big bucks. Some are paid more in overtime than some people make all year.
Safe streets, safe homes and clean drinking water are all things essential to our everyday lives, but they come at a cost.
“In order to provide the kind of coverage that's necessary we've had to run overtime to may up the difference,” said George Little, CAO City of Memphis.
The On Your Side Investigators found out the difference last year was a whopping $22 million.
The top overtime earner in 2012 was Memphis Police Sgt. James A. White. He made an additional $41,294.08 in overtime. If you add that to his base salary, he made more than his bosses at the police department.
We asked police director Toney Armstrong about the large amount of overtime the officer made.
Armstrong said, “One officer from the traffic bureau racked up more than $41,000 worth of overtime. Is that a bit much? On paper it looks like a bit much.”
White worked one thousand extra hours, according to city documents, by organizing security for parades and working special events like weekend races. Armstrong says overtime pay for special events is billed to the organizations hosting the event, but he couldn’t say how often the groups actually repaid the city.
Armstrong said, “On paper it looks like that but if you actually did a breakdown of it then you'll see he worked X amount of hours for this. he was compensated in court for this or whatever and as it accumulated it grew to that amount.”
WREG-TV found dispatchers also cash in on a lot of overtime pay. At least 23 of them made $20,000 in overtime last year.
Armstrong says his department relies on overtime to make up for shortages and it's all well tracked.
The fire department also burns a hole in the city's overtime budget. Last year, at least three battalion chiefs worked more than one thousand extra hours. About 60 racked up more than five hundred hours in overtime, which raises the question we asked to Fire Director Alvin Benson: Do we have tired firefighters?
Benson responded, “No, no, no. Overworked? No, firefighters aren't tired at all.”
Director Benson says they have a long list of firefighters to choose from and mandatory state regulations drive up overtime.
“Minimum staffing levels, we require that there are four people on every piece of equipment. Every truck, every engine. There's four people. There's two people on every ambulance,” said Benson.
Another big expense in overtime comes from the city's waste-water treatment plants. One employee here at the Stiles TreatmentPplant in North Memphis racked up almost one thousand hours of overtime last year. That netted him an additional $38,000 in pay.
Memphis CAO George Little said, “You have to have a supervisor on site. You don't want line-level employees by themselves in case something happens in the middle of the night.”
There's a hiring freeze over alleged discriminatory practices at the city's waste-water treatment plants. Little says not being able to hire new workers since 2008 drives up overtime.
He said, “If you are expecting anywhere near the same level of service, often overtime is one of the go to tools.”
Little says the city could cut costs but that would mean eliminating or scaling back services. He says that is something the city wants to avoid.