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Norwalk Police hit overtime wall

Deputy Norwalk Police Chief Susan Zecca and Finance Director Thomas Hamilton answer questions from Common Council members Tuesday in City Hall.
Deputy Norwalk Police Chief Susan Zecca and Finance Director Thomas Hamilton answer questions from Common Council members Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Police expect to have a full staff within a week, but it will be quite some time before that is reflected in feet on the street, with the result of unexpected overtime expenditures.

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The Common Council on Tuesday authorized a transfer of $210,540 from the contingency fund to the police department to cover a projected deficit in the wage account. Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said it was really a $70,540 transfer because $140,000 was already budgeted as an expected transfer when the 2013-14 budget was made. The department’s total wage budget is $16.4 million, so the amount being talked about was only .4 percent, he said.

“On a budget of this magnitude, where the uncertainty going into the budget is pretty significant because you don’t really know what is going to happen, you are budgeting more or less 18 months in advance and you don’t know what is going to happen during the course of the year that is going to drive up overtime expenses,” Hamilton said. “To be that close to budget is actually remarkably close.”

Councilman David Watts (D-District A) initially said he would make a motion to table the vote, but after a discussion he withdrew that comment. The vote to approve the transfer was unanimous.

“One of the reasons the overtime is so high is because of the seven new hires that we hired this year,” Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said. “I believe there are four unanticipated retirements. That generates a little bit of overtime or a need for additional funding because of the suddenness and the severance of the retirements because of the DROP plan.”

It takes up to a year of training to get a new police officer on duty, Kimmel and Hamilton said. The result is that the department is paying employees but not getting the benefit of their service. Overtime therefore swells as the hours are covered by those already on the job.

“Police overtime has been an interesting issue for the council for many years,” Kimmel said. “Perhaps we can have an extended discussion of it, all of the factors that generate overtime at our next Finance Committee meeting so we can get a broader picture of the history of this issue and how we can deal with it.”

Deputy Norwalk Police Chief Susan Zecca said the department is hoping to hire two officers and “be at full strength for about a week.” There will still be turnover as more officers retire, she said. “Unfortunately it does become a little bit of a recurring issue,” Zecca said.

“I would not have been surprised if you came in and asked for double this amount,” Kimmel said. “I am surprised you didn’t have more overtime, given this winter.”

Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said police overtime is “certainly worthy of a discussion.”

“At some point we’re probably going to spend more than we appropriated because it’s always based on past history,” Hempstead said. “I don’t think anybody wants to abuse a system that can be put into overtime, but at the same token I never want somebody to have to look over their shoulder because they have two officers who are sick, they’re injured, whatever and the city winds up being under-covered. Or an incident where the feds come in and say they’ve got a major bust, they want a bunch of detectives on, which I hear they do once in a while, come in the middle of the night and do whatever undercover. I don’t want to tie the hands of any kind of our public agencies the same as I would want to not plow our streets because we are worried about overtime for the DPW workers. So I think it’s important as long as it is planned for and not abused.”

Comments

6 responses to “Norwalk Police hit overtime wall”

  1. M. Murray’s

    Here’s a softball for piberman and lwitherspoon….. Swing away.

  2. LWitherspoon

    @M. Murray’s
    .
    If it’s true that taxpayers actually save money from the overtime described above, I have no concerns.
    .
    I have written in the past that I question the wisdom of a system that encourages our most experienced officers to retire from the Norwalk PD, work for a different police department, and collect a salary and pension at the same time. We pay our experienced officers more because their experience has value. Why then do we incentivize them to “retire” and go to work for another police department? The City suffers from the loss of fine, experienced officers such as the Cottos, PLUS we incur the higher overtime described above in training new officers.

  3. OhNoNorwalk

    Time to Out Source the Police

  4. Bill

    Falling property values, increasing property taxes, increasing union salaries and pensions, no to mall development tax $….this city is quickly on its way to Bridgeport/Detroit status…great job folks in power.

  5. piberman

    “At some point we’re probably going to spend more than we appropriated because it’s always based on past history,” Council Hempstead.

    The financial sophistication of Norwalk’s Council President helps explain why outlays have increased 55% over the past 2 decades amidst nearly stagnant income for City residents. Clearly there’s no role for improved management or innovations in Norwalk. We’re doing the best we can. Lucky us. Our neighboring towns wouldn’t tolerate Mr. Hempstead’s statement. They can do their sums.

  6. Bobblehempstead

    @Piberman hits the nail on the head. God forbid spending ever be based on what the market will bear. Instead just nod your head up and down every year for a slight increase above inflation over and over with hidden extras all over the place.
    .
    @OhNoNorwalk; You can replace every single police and fire department in the country with the young veterans returning from overseas duty for half the price and get much better quality. MPs with real experience vs the overweight slobs we have making near 200k with very little education.

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