NORWELL, MA — Taxpayers paid $800,000 in overtime to town employees last year, mostly because of staffing losses in the fire department, town records show.
Overtime payouts nearly doubled in 2017 over the prior year to $401,642. The department typically spends about $260,000 a year on overtime, but a perfect storm of illnesses, military absences and family leave led to a quarter of Reardon’s firefighters to be out of service for most of the year, Fire Chief Andy Reardon said.
“About 25 percent of my staff was out. It was an unusual year,” Reardon said.
The 28-member department relies of four five-person shifts to staff the stations. The remaining personnel are in administrative and officer roles.
Reardon said it didn’t make sense to hire new firefighters. Three of the four firefighters on leave returned prior to the end of the year. A new firefighter joined the department last month to replace the person who did not return, Reardon said.
“Theere are balance points you have to look at, $400K is a lot of money, but if you hire more people you really don’t get rid of the need for overtime because you’ll still have vacation, sick leave and other usage to cover,” Reardon said. “In this case it was better to pay overtime because it is a straight payment versus regular time plus 30 percent benefits that you would pay a new hire.”
In most South Shore towns police overtime is a major factor driving up budgets. By comparison Norwell police only spent $320,921 in overtime last year.
Town Adminsitrator Peter Morin said the overtime increases in 2017 were unavoidable.
“Overtime is managed carefully in both the police and fire departments,” Morin said. “Overtime is in many ways is unpredictable. You budget based on prior experience and you try to predict what will happen in the future, but don’t know whether there will be weather or serious crisis incidents or personnel issues that will arise during the course of the fiscal year.”
Topping the list of Norwell’s highest earners last year was schools Superintendent Matthew Keegan, who took home $208,067 per the terms of his contract.
In total, 83 employees earned six-figure incomes last year. The list included 45 teachers, 17 school administrators, 11 police officers and four firefighters. Other employees on the list of included Town Administrator Peter Morin earned $143,889, Police Chief Theodore Ross took home $141,310, Fire Chief Andy Reardon earned $125,567, finance director Donna Mangan was paid $123,821 and water Superintendent John McInnis earned $109,645.
Discrepancies between employee regular pay and gross wages can be explained by overtime earnings, education stipends and retroactive contractual raises, Morin said.
From The Patriot Ledger