October 20, 2018

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Fire chief wants city to budget $3 million for overtime

Total OT costs this year projected to be nearly $2.4 million

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane says about $900,000 had been set aside for overtime costs in the budget, but total overtime costs this year are projected to be nearly $2.4 million. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane says about $900,000 had been set aside for overtime costs in the budget, but total overtime costs this year are projected to be nearly $2.4 million. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane says firefighting overtime costs have been consistently over budget in recent years due to insufficient funding.

“It’s a matter of an inadequate budget to begin with. The city — I would say quite wisely — has chosen to fund firefighter overtime based on a readjustment partway through the year, while looking for under-expenditures in other areas,” Lane said.

“What that does is reduce the burden on the tax roll when the budget is being created in the first place.”

In 2018, city council approved a $193.5-million budget for the WFPS, but last month department officials announced it wouldn’t be possible for them to stay within that amount.

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Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane says firefighting overtime costs have been consistently over budget in recent years due to insufficient funding.

"It’s a matter of an inadequate budget to begin with. The city — I would say quite wisely — has chosen to fund firefighter overtime based on a readjustment partway through the year, while looking for under-expenditures in other areas," Lane said.

"What that does is reduce the burden on the tax roll when the budget is being created in the first place."

In 2018, city council approved a $193.5-million budget for the WFPS, but last month department officials announced it wouldn’t be possible for them to stay within that amount.

About $900,000 had been set aside for firefighter overtime costs, which Lane said was never going to be enough money. Total overtime costs this year are projected to be nearly $2.4 million; in 2017, overtime costs came in at $2.124 million.

On Sept. 4, the city’s finance committee approved additional funding of $4.8 million to the WFPS budget. Without more funding, department officials, citing a lack of staff, were projecting a shortfall by the end of the year.

Overtime costs accounted for $1.5 million of the additional funding, while $1.1 million was earmarked for firefighter benefits. This has been a repeated pattern at city hall in recent years, with firefighter overtime costs coming in over budget.

Lane said he’s consistently called for a firefighter overtime allotment of at least $3 million. He claims the department has to go to the finance committee and ask for more money each year due to the way the city has approached setting the budget.

Chief Lane said the city should be allocating at least $3 million annually for firefighter overtime costs. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chief Lane said the city should be allocating at least $3 million annually for firefighter overtime costs. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

"That initial budget is inadequate. Ideally, it would be in the neighbourhood of $3 million. But I certainly understand that there is every effort to keep the tax burden as low as possible. So to do it on a readjustment part way through the year is a very wise thing to do," Lane said.

"All it does, though, is it generates a lot of media attention because we have to go to the committee to get the readjustment done."

The chief also points to a number of initiatives — including efforts to maintain high staff reserves and stagger vacation leave — the department has implemented to combat runaway overtime costs.

"The overtime use by the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is quite reasonable," Lane contends.

Mayor Brian Bowman suggested Tuesday that a shift to a multi-year budget could help address the problem in the future.

While a multi-year approach will be tougher on council, Bowman believes it will save taxpayers money in the long run. The city currently sets budgets annually.

"The biggest change I’m anticipating happening that will benefit not just that one particular issue, but cross departments, is multi-year budgets," Bowman said.

"It wouldn’t be the next immediate budget, but the one after that. There’s additional work that has to happen throughout the next year to prepare the city and the public service for it."

The new approach would see budgets set for an entire administrative term (four years), with annual updates. The mayor said he believes that approach will force council into "more difficult decisions earlier on" when projecting balanced budgets.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 at 4:41 PM CDT: changes headline

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