Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano has tapped a former drug enforcement agent and federal investigator to serve as the city's new overtime czar as part of his ongoing effort to reduce payroll costs in the city's police and fire departments.
Officially, Patrick Shea's title will be special assistant to the mayor for public safety policy, a job that will pay $140,000 a year with benefits. He will be responsible for "reviewing and analyzing police and fire departmental policies and procedures" as well as scheduling, job-related injuries, sick leave and overtime cost, Spano said Wednesday.
Shea, who will start Oct. 15, worked nearly 30 years as a special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He also headed fraud investigations at American Transit Insurance Co. for 14 years, according to city officials.
Spano is in the midst of tense contract negotiations with the firefighters union and has been trying to cut overtime costs that reached more than $8 million collectively in the police and fire departments last year. Spano said the city's policy of unlimited sick pay for firefighters has led to widespread abuses, and he has vowed to reduce costs.
"Collectively, these benefits are ripe for abuse," Spano said in a statement Wednesday. "We need to rid the city of these abusers who drive up overtime and are costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year."
The existing union contract requires the city to keep at least 57 firefighters on duty, no matter how many have called in sick. At present, those who call in sick must be replaced by firefighters brought in on time-and-a-half overtime.
Barry McGoey, president of Yonkers Fire Local 628, rejects Spano's argument that firefighters are taking advantage of the sick leave policy and doubts that the appointment of a new overtime investigator will result in any meaningful cost savings.
"The vast majority of sick leave is line-of-duty, legitimate and unavoidable," he told Newsday.
McGoey and other officials blame the overtime costs on a high number of vacancies in the Fire Department and said the problem could be solved if the city agreed to hire a new generation of firefighters. They contend there is federal grant money for hiring at least a dozen entry-level firefighters, but Spano until now has refused to tap into it.
Spano has said he's willing to hire up to 35 new firefighters, but with reduced benefits and pay less than the current $70,996 starting pay. He also wants to reduce the city's minimum staffing level.
On Thursday, both sides will begin arbitration hearings on Spano's proposal to reduce overtime costs by temporarily closing two fire companies and keeping trucks off the road on days when large numbers of firefighters call in sick.
Yonkers officials have said the new policy would have cut the Fire Department's overtime costs by about $5 million a year, with no impact on public safety. Union leaders argued the new policy would jeopardize public safety.
On Aug. 30, a State Supreme Court justice granted a temporary injunction preventing the change from going into effect. Before the case went to trial, however, both sides agreed to arbitration.
The city's police department has cut overtime costs substantially in recent years, from $21 million in 2007 to about $8.5 million last year, said Det. Keith Olson, president of the Yonkers Police Benevolent Association, which represents about 600 rank-and-file officers.
"Clearly we are living in tough fiscal times. That is evidenced when you look at the way the Yonkers Police Department has been cut over the last few years, particularly at the rank and file level," Olson said in a statement Wednesday. "With that in mind we welcome anyone who can help restore fiscal responsibility so that we may begin to rebuild our depleted police force. All we ask is that Mr. Shea take a fair and comprehensive review of the issues at hand."