INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - With tax revenues on the decline over the last few years, cities across Indiana have been forced to slash their budgets, sometimes resulting in service cuts to you. Many have been searching for innovative new ways to "trim the fat." But, I Team 8 found one area that's been largely spared from major cuts: overtime spending.
It takes a lot to keep a city running.
From plow drivers to park rangers and clerks to cops, they are dedicated civil servants working for you. And--just like in the private sector--that dedication sometimes takes those employees beyond the traditional 40-hour workweek, earning them additional income from overtime pay at time-and-a-half.
Some call it the cost of doing business in the modern era.
But, a five-month investigation of overtime records from many larger Central Indiana cities shows some of those costs are on the rise. I Team 8 broke the numbers down to find out why.
Indianapolis has spent more than $75 million on overtime for city workers since 2006—an average of about $16 million each year. Divided by its population, the city spent $20.81 on overtime per citizen. In an average year, around 70 percent of the city's 4,500 employees earn at least some overtime pay. For the vast majority, it's little more than supplemental income—less than $5,000 annually to compensate for additional hours worked.
But, that compensation is growing.
In 2010--the last year of complete data the city provided to I Team 8 through a public records request last fall—Indianapolis taxpayers footed the bill for about $17 million in overtime--up from $15.4 million the year before. Click here to see a breakdown of Indianapolis overtime spending . In early January, I Team 8 requested overtime spending data through the end of the 2011 budget year as well. We are awaiting the city's response.
Most of that money went to public safety--$12 million in 2008, $9.9 million in 2009, and $9.7 million in 2010. However, in 2010, only $8.7 million was initially budgeted for public safety overtime.
I Team 8's analysis showed most of the spending beyond that budgeted amount came from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, which spent an additional $817,517 on overtime that year. The department spent $370,350 beyond its initial budgeted amount in 2009.
Other city departments also overspent their initial overtime budgets that year, including the Department of Public Works, which is responsible for road work and snow removal. Projections of the department's initial 2010 overtime budget were set at $1.5 million. The department actually spent $3.4 million on overtime that year.
The analysis also showed some employees earning much higher amounts in overtime than others.
Nearly of all of them are police officers.
As our team combed through the data, some stood out immediately, like an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department sergeant who had already earned $48,512 in overtime along through September of 2011 after earning $67,953 in overtime the year before. That's more than his base salary of $64,656. Add the two together, and he earned more than $132,000 in total pay that year.
Records also showed a patrolman who earned $74,856 in overtime in 2008. Another patrolman earned $63,667 in overtime that year. Their base pay at the time was $55,000. By volunteering to pick up extra shifts writing traffic tickets and running additional traffic patrols and DUI checkpoints, each more than doubled their yearly income.
They also made more than Mayor Greg Ballard who earns $95,000 per year and Police Chief Paul Cieselski, who earns $117,183 per year. The officers total earnings also approached the annual salary of Marion County Sheriff John Layton, who earns $132,345 per year.
They aren't alone.
Between 2006 and 2011, I Team 8 found 872 Indianapolis and Marion County employees who had earned at least $15,000 in overtime in a single year. 73 of those employees earned at least $30,000 in annual overtime pay during that period. That includes more than 25 officers from IMPD and the Marion County Sheriff's Department whose five-year overtime earnings topped $150,000 each. At least three of the officers have each earned more than $250,000 in overtime during that time.
Marion County's Alliance of Neighborhood Associations (McANA) has studied Indianapolis and Marion County's use of overtime for nearly a decade. The organization encompasses Neighborhood Associations throughout Marion County, and formulates positions on public policy through representation at government meetings at the City, County and State levels. The group's president, Cathy Burton, called the statistics troubling.
"Looking at the numbers, I can tell you they are of great concern," Burton told 24-Hour News 8, "They are alarming. Why are we spending this much money?"
I Team 8 also took the numbers to Marian University labor economics professor Dr. Tom Gjerde.
"It seems high," Gjerde said, asked if the individual overtime earnings were surprising.
"And, you have to compare it to their regular salary without overtime. If they're making 50,000 in regular pay and 50,000 in overtime pay, that seems excessive."
In 2010, Indianapolis spent $9.7 million on public safety overtime. Nearly $5.9 million of that went to IMPD. At the current rate set by the Fraternal Order of Police collective bargaining agreement, the city could use that money to put an additional 101 patrol officers on the streets.
But, Gjerde says there may be more to the story.
"It might be that the city is trying to save money by not hiring a lot of new workers, with the health and benefit costs that would go along with that. For a private firm, it's easy for them to justify hiring another worker. So, they go out and hire them. But for a city it's a little more complicated. You have to budget for the position and get authorization. And you do want to attract and retain quality employees," he said.
Gjerde also says another key question needs to be answered.
"You have to look at the total compensation package," he said. "Does overtime make up for a lack of benefits somewhere else? And, do workers in Indianapolis have a much larger total compensation package than similar workers in another community?"
A recent study showed New York City spent $550 million on total overtime costs in 2010. Divided by its population, the city that never sleeps spent $67.27 on overtime per citizen—about three times what Indianapolis spent per person.
But, are "big city" comparisons fair?
I Team 8 turned to other Central Indiana cities to find the answer.
Anderson spent an annual average of $2.07 million on overtime over the last three years, with costs rising from $1.9 million in 2010 to $2.2 million in 2011. Divided by its population, the city spent $37.04 on overtime per citizen.
Anderson records show several police officers among the 10 highest overtime earners in each of those years, with earnings between $18,000 and $20,000 in annual overtime. Seven Light and Power company employees earned between $20,000 and $42,000 in overtime during that period. The top overtime earners—both Light and Power employees-- received approximately $42,000 and $36,000 from overtime pay in 2011.
Bloomington spent an annual average of $788,638 on overtime over the last three years, with costs falling from $808,914 in 2009 to $768,363 in 2010 (the last year for which full data was supplied). Divided by its population, the city spent $9.80 on overtime per citizen.
Bloomington records show the 10 highest overtime earners in each of those years were all police officers, with ranges from about $8,000 per year to $32,000 per year. However, only one officer earned more than $20,000 in overtime during a single year. All others earned less than $15,000 in overtime, with about half earning under $10,000 in overtime.
Carmel spent an annual average of $2.97 million on overtime over the last three years, with costs rising from $2.84 million in 2010 to $2.967 million in 2011. Divided by its population, the city spent $37.54 on overtime per citizen.
Carmel refused to disclose the names and overtime earnings of its employees, saying it has "identified no records that are relevant" to I Team 8's public records request. The city's legal department also said it is not required by law to create lists of those receiving overtime pay. I Team 8 submitted a supplemental request for the data in a different form, and is awaiting the city's response.
Columbus spent an annual average of $541,310 on overtime over the last three years, with costs falling from $545,340 in 2009 to $545,131 in 2010 (the last year for which full data was supplied). Divided by its population, the city spent $12.28 on overtime per citizen.
Columbus records show the 10 highest overtime earners in each of those years ranging from police officers to firefighters, transit mechanics and utility operators. Their overtime earnings ranged from about $7,000 per year to about $25,000 per year. Only three police officers reported earning more than $15,000 in overtime during all three years, with about half earning less than $10,000 in overtime.
Fishers spent an annual average of $888,590 on overtime over the last three years, with costs rising from $880,367 in 2010 to $881,765 through November of 2011. Divided by its population, the city spent $11.57 on overtime per citizen.
Fishers records show the 10 highest overtime earners are all police officers and firefighters. Their overtime earnings ranged from about $8,000 per year to about $20,000 per year. Only one police officer—a sergeant—earned more than $20,000 in overtime during all three years, with about half earning less than $10,000 in overtime.
Greenwood spent an annual average of $323,070 on overtime over the last three years, with costs rising from $318,763 in 2009 to $372,042 in 2010 (the last year for which full data was supplied). Divided by its population, Greenwood spent $6.48 on overtime per citizen.
response to I Team 8's public records request did not include records of individual employee overtime earnings, but did show overtime spending on policing remained steady, between $120,000 and $127,000 per year. I Team 8 submitted a supplemental request for the individual earning data in a different form, and is awaiting the city's response.
Kokomo spent an annual average of $994,450 on overtime over the last three years, with costs falling from $1.05 million in 2009 to $1.02 million in 2010 (the last year for which full data was supplied). Divided by its population, Kokomo spent $21.87 on overtime per citizen.
Kokomo records show the 10 highest overtime earners range in position from plant operator to police officer and foreman. Their individual overtime totals ranged from about $11,000 per year to $35,000 per year—earned by a plant operator in 2009. 16 of the 30 employees listed in the city's records response work at the wastewater treatment plant. Each is paid through plant revenue, not property tax revenue, a city spokesperson said. The top overtime earners in Kokomo Police Department earned between $11,000 and $19,600 in each of the last three years.
Muncie spent an annual average of $893,430 on overtime over the last three years, with costs falling from $932,473 in 2009 to $854,387 in 2010 (the last year for which full data was supplied). Divided by its population, Muncie spent $12.74 on overtime per citizen.
Muncie's response to I Team 8's public records request did not list employee positions, but shows the 10 highest overtime earners ranging between $1,100 and $16,800 per year. The city reported only one employee earning more than $15,000 in overtime in any single year. I Team 8 submitted a supplemental request for the position specific data, and is awaiting the city's response.
For Burton, the data from other cities raised new questions about Indianapolis' overtime policy.
"There's a lot of money going to a small amount of people [in Indianapolis]," she said. "I would wonder why that is?"
Burton also has another concern.
"Are police officers operating at their best when they're working that many hours? If you're looking at someone working 80-90 hours a week in a job that's very dangerous, is that really the best thing for the public and for those officers? The more tired you get, the more difficult it is to make those judgments. And, that isn't any reflection on the police officers' ability to function. We need to look at protecting those police officers as well as the people they protect," she said.
We took those questions to Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard (R), asking him about the city's overtime policies.
"I'm not sure there's a specific policy," he said. "You kind of have to do it as you go, because Indianapolis puts on so many big events. We try to keep overtime down. Generally speaking, if there is a policy, that's it. Try to keep overtime down."
I Team 8 also asked Public Safety Director Frank Straub about why individual officers in Indianapolis earn more in overtime than their counterparts in other Central Indiana cities.
"I don't know," Straub replied. "I don't know that it's a problem that it's higher. You have to look at the volume of crime and the volume of fires. We have 420 square miles to patrol with nearly a million people in it. Overtime spending is a reality. It's a reality of municipal government, of state government, and of federal government. At some point, you just have to spend money."
Ballard had another reason behind the numbers.
"We have things like Final Fours, [the] Super Bowl and Big 10 football championships and things like that, like the [Indianapolis] 500. That's why," he said.
IMPD also takes other factors into account, Straub noted.
"You have to follow your training time, your equipment time, and four to six months of training. So, you're accruing overtime during that period. There are medical benefits, health insurance benefits--all those types of things," he said.
Straub also said overtime costs often rise because of specialized training.
"You could have a DUI grant that supports overtime for DUI enforcement. You may have, say, 100 people in traffic division and you may have 20 that are qualified DUI testers or examiners. So, those 20 are the people who get detailed to the DUI initiative. So, they're going to have this spike that comes out of the DUI grant. And, sometimes when you see patrol and traffic officers, there are people that are just aggressive in terms of seeking out overtime that someone else doesn't want to work. It doesn't necessarily mean the system is broken. It just means this is someone who is just an animal, who just wants to work."
Asked if the city would be safer by using money spent on police overtime to put more officers on the street, Straub shook his head.
"There's actually mathematical equations you can use to figure out whether you're at the point where you're saving money by using overtime or by hiring. And, you get
these break points. Even though you're at that break even point, you still do better on overtime than you do with hiring a class. And, it becomes very much a balancing act," he said.
Straub also noted that additional firefighters have been added to the city payroll because of consolidations with surrounding departments. The city's police force is also back at what he considers "full strength" of around 1,650 officers.
"You have to look at it individually," Ballard agreed. "Do you want to hire another person for that [money]? Because--talking about a policeman--a policeman costs more than $50,000 pr $60,000 a year when you factor in [benefits]."
AUDITING THE SYSTEM
In 2009, IMPD implemented a "cap" on overtime hours, keeping officers to less than 20 additional hours per week. But, collective bargaining terms made some of those goals unrealistic, Straub said.
Some of this stuff people see in overtime, especially in police and fire, is contract driven," Straub said. "If an officer has to come back to go to court, the contract stipulates how many hours they're entitled to. So, in a police department, you typically see court overtime as a big driver. We've been working, and will continue to work aggressively with the courts and the prosecutor's office to say: do you need four officers to come back to court, or could one officer do it?"
Still, there's been no new number based "policy" put into place to cap overtime hours, and Straub said the city doesn't need one.
"I don't know that there's a max in terms of 20 hours a week. But, we are looking at it. When we see those anomalies bounce out, we're asking--why this anomaly? Why is this person working this overtime?"
In response to questions from I Team 8, the city is currently conducting an "overtime audit". Straub says overtime requests for "personal" reasons--like doctors visits or squad car repairs--will no longer be approved. He also projects overtime spending on IMPD investigations will drop by more than $500,000 this year, as detectives begin handling cases in "shifts."
"We're asking: is it really necessary to spend the amount of money we were for our investigators to respond to a homicide or a rape or some other significant crime? If you look at some of those same people [now], you're going to see dramatic reductions in their overtime. And, now that we have this consolidated financial office, I think our ability to really look at our expenditures in real time is improving, which gives us the ability to tweak our operations in real time, as opposed to a three month or six month review. I think that shows a real commitment to not allowing people to take advantage of the system," Straub said.
Still, for those like Burton, the proof is in the bottom line.
"Any citizen who is concerned about their city wants it to be the safest city possible," she said. "And, any suggestion that you take money away from resources to provide adequate law enforcement makes it sound like you're just a scrooge and you don't care what happens to people on the street and police officers. It would be easy to say--we know what we're doing. Leave us alone and let us do our job. But, when it comes to public dollars, we don't have the luxury of hearing that. They need to be accountable to the public."
1:30 P.M. UPDATE: Indiana State Police handled 20 slide-offs in the Bloomington district because of the winter weather, as of 12:30 p.m. Troopers also reported 14 car crashes and 16 cases of helping a motorist.
An Illinois man was killed late Thursday when the car he was driving was struck by a semi tractor on I-70 about three miles west of the Cambridge City exit.
Click to see photos from the First Prairie Creek Church Fire.