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January 22, 2014

Fire dept. burns up OT budget

Chief blames personnel shortage and injuries

METHUEN — The Fire Department has used up three-quarters of its $1.1 million overtime budget halfway through the fiscal year and would need $400,000 more to continue spending as it has so far.

Fire Chief Steven Buote said a shortage of four firefighters and several others out on injury leave caused the department to deplete its overtime budget quickly. A fire engine and an ambulance were taken out of service to relieve pressure on the overtime budget, he said, and most of those on leave are back on duty.

Additionally, more than a half dozen Methuen firefighters are in or recently graduated from the Massachusetts Fire Academy, which means they can fill assignments currently covered with overtime shifts.

Mayor Stephen Zanni said he does not intend to ask the City Council for more money for the department’s overtime and has told Buote he must make his budget work through June.

“I expect him to get through with what he was given,” Zanni said.

According to city payroll numbers, the Fire Department spent $821,632.45 in overtime through Jan. 11, almost 75 percent of the total overtime budget.

That averages out to $30,430.83 per week, and if the department continues spending overtime at that rate, it would need $1.525 million to get through the entire budget year.

Without more money, the department would have to spend an average of about $11,500 per week.

Buote said much of the highest overtime spending happened over the summer. At one point, the department had 12 people out on extended injury or illness leave, an unusually high number, he said. Now, there are two out, and he hopes he can keep to less than $10,000 a week and possibly put the ambulance, assigned to Central Station, back on line.

Last week, the department spent about $5,800 in overtime, he said.

Through the recession, Buote said the department was down 15 people from 2009, with three people laid off and the other positions not filled when an employee left. The department has refilled most of those positions since then and now is down four firefighters.

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