Response Letter Rochester Locust Club, July 28
July 28, 2020
Dear President Santiago and President Mazzeo:
Thank you for your July 21 letter about my recent votes. I stated my rationale in the July 16 Committee meetings, but I’ll recount them here and I hope to discuss this further in person.
I voted no on four introductories in the month of July, all of which proposed to add new overtime expenses to the Rochester Police Department. My decision was neither arbitrary, nor political. COVID-19 created a budget crisis for municipalities around the country, and in this context I find myself particularly concerned about the impact of rising police overtime costs.
Standard & Poor recently reported that “consistent growth in public safety costs related to overtime” has created structural budget imbalances in cities across New York State. They highlighted overtime expenses because they affect current year budgets while also significantly impacting future years by increasing pension costs. Though Rochester was not one of the cities that S&P specifically referred to in their recent report, the Democrat & Chronicle last year showed that “the city’s police overtime outlay of about $7 million annually approach[ed] record payouts.”
I understand the need for some budgeted overtime expenses, just as there are in almost any organization. However, RPD overtime has clearly been abused in the past. The same D&C article reports that one patrol officer received almost $60,000 in overtime pay, on top of his $86,330 base salary. Only a few years earlier, that same officer logged 1,271 overtime hours! This is only one example, but it demonstrates that there are a lack of controls in place.
During the June budget hearings, I repeatedly asked about RPD overtime and how we can control for it in a year with less special events – and more financial concerns – than ever before. Chief Singletary assured me that controls are in place and that overtime will be monitored and reported regularly. I trust Chief Singletary’s leadership and know he will do as he stated. But a few weeks later City Council received these four requests to add new police overtime expenses. I want to continue to support introductories like 271, but I first need to be sure there is a transparent way to account for and control overtime costs.
Perhaps you can help develop such a plan. As the Locust Club begins to negotiate a new contract, it is the right time to establish caps and controls on individual overtime allotments. The Locust Club can use the IAFF contract as a model agreement that includes measures to allow for necessary overtime, but ensures no abuse of the system.
I appreciate the work that RPD and RFD do every day, and I understand the reasons for you to be upset with my vote. But please know that my goal is to ensure that we can sustain our great city long after the three of us are gone, by maintaining a smart, balanced budget. I hope that you share that goal with me, and that we can collectively talk about how to control overtime expenses.
Mitch Gruber, PhD
City Councilmember, At-Large
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