Peabody finds cash to cover safety costs

April 21, 2017

By ADAM SWIFT

PEABODY — A combination of injuries, special details, and how police officers are compensated through the state’s Quinn Bill resulted in a nearly $1.5 million cost overrun for police and fire overtime costs for the current fiscal year.

The City Council’s finance committee approved pulling that money from various sources, primarily the city’s reserve funds, to cover those costs.

Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said the police and fire overtime budgets, along with special education spending in the schools and the city’s snow and ice removal costs, are the toughest budgets to predict from year to year.

“It’s impossible to predict what the number of injuries are going to be,” said Bettencourt. “We give our best guess to what the overtime budget is going to yield, like the snow and ice removal, and at the end of the fiscal year we try to make the adjustments.”

On the police side, Bettencourt told councilors on Thursday that Chief Thomas Griffin’s request for a transfer totaling nearly $750,000 was driven by a number of officers who have been out on duty injury or extended sick leave (including a dozen who have been out for a month or more at a time).

He also attributed the transfer to the need for added patrols and investigations related to drug law enforcement, and dispatcher coverage along with overtime coverage to cover the city’s centennial celebrations.

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Councilor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin raised questions about the $225,000 in additional money requested to pay out how police officers are compensated through the Quinn Bill, which provides career incentives for officers.

“How did you overshoot the runway so much?” she asked city Finance Director Michael Gingras. “That is a significant amount.”

Gingras said that under the latest collective bargaining agreement, police officers can now roll those career incentives from the Quinn Bill into their base pay, rather than receiving a lump sum payment as they have in the past. He said the number of employees opting to take that option was not anticipated.

Normally, the obligations would accrue and be paid in November during the next budget cycle, according to Bettencourt, with some overage in salary and overtime attributed to the timing change.

The $692,000 in overages for the fire department budget was driven primarily by overtime to cover for 14 firefighters who were out for extended sick leave, as well as for a number of major fires the city faced over the past year.

“Fourteen firefighters seems like a very significant number,” said Ward 2 Councilor Peter McGinn. “That seems like a real outlier and I’m not sure how you anticipate for that.”