|By Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
But a Tribune investigation has found firefighters have continued to rack up similar figures at the
District Board President
"We're making good changes to the bottom line," Hickey said. "But it's hard to predict ahead of time."
When Hickey released to the media a list of firefighters and their salaries in 2011, he ridiculed their high pay: "Back in school, no one thinks that a firefighter is going to make
At the time he was taking issue with 25 employees who were making more than
District employees boosted their salaries with overtime pay of
Shortly after Hickey made headlines targeting fire district spending in 2011, he announced a run for
In 2013, the fire district employed more than 170 full- and part-time staffers, with 117 firefighters. Its
Brucki said that's not the best comparison because a fire protection district's budget records all expenses, while some fire department costs might appear in a different section of a municipal budget. But Orland's budget is still nearly 50 percent larger than the next-biggest suburban fire protection district,
Hickey says he has saved taxpayers
Of the 117 firefighters, lieutenants, engineers and battalion chiefs on the district's payroll last year, 100 were paid more than
"Orland's compensation is high, but what's the market? What's the cost of living?" said
Knoll, who sits on the
Both Hickey and Brucki argued that while the district's firefighters are well-paid, they're also providing outstanding service.
"I believe there's a higher level of expectations here," Brucki said at a recent training day for new recruits. "The districts in our area all do a good job; it's just that much higher here."
"There's a lot of respect in my neck of the woods for that department," Knoll said. But he questioned the board's decision to release total compensation data, saying that while it's a fair way to look at how much employees cost the district, most wouldn't consider employer pension contributions and health insurance part of their take-home pay.
Hickey said he wasn't trying to criticize his firefighters or say they were overpaid. Instead, he wanted to point out high overtime and pension contributions, he said.
The data on 2013 pension contributions aren't directly comparable to the previously reported figures because the district changed the way it calculates pension costs after releasing the 2010 compensation data, said district finance director
When Hickey released compensation data in 2011, he criticized the overtime paid to cover shifts, but he also resisted hiring new firefighters, which could have reduced the need for overtime. With annual salary increases, benefits and pension costs accompanying new hires, "It's cheaper to pay overtime," Hickey said recently.
High minimum staffing levels are part of the reason the district has significant overtime costs, Brucki said. The district's contract requires 28 firefighters on every shift, and though they aim to have eight additional firefighters ready to work each shift in case someone calls in sick or takes a vacation day, reductions in staff can make it hard to keep up, Brucki said.
The district's top overtime earner last year was also its top-paid firefighter, whose
Most overtime related to specialty teams includes payment for employees to receive training, some of which is reimbursable, Sullivan said.
Close behind was a lieutenant whose
This year could see a spike in overtime because the district expects 10 to 20 people to take advantage of retirement incentives that end in December, Brucki said. Not only might they need to rely on a smaller staff while training new hires, firefighters nearing retirement tend to use accrued sick days, meaning they could need more people to fill in, he said.
Hickey said the retirement incentives would be worthwhile because the district wants to replace some more experienced employees with cheaper new hires, particularly after negotiating a reduction in starting salaries in the latest contract.
He said he anticipated personnel costs "dropping dramatically" starting in 2015, though he did not have an estimate of how much the district expected to save.
Compensation data were added to the fire district's website in May after the Tribune requested the information. Hickey said he plans to continue posting budget information online.
"I believe an educated citizen is the best citizen," he said. "When citizens are given all the facts, they can see the people they've elected are doing the best job they can with their money."
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