Overtime Issues Set the Stage for Municipal Service Cuts (KTVA.com Exclusive)
Municipal departments wrangle with ballooning budgets
ANCHORAGE – Just a week before the Spring Equinox, the houses on Spurr Lane remained covered in a thick blanket of snow.
The dead-end West Anchorage road was quiet, and the drifts piled up along the fences and front yards muffled the sounds of the surrounding neighborhood and the unmarked police sedans and Major Crime Scene van idling in the street. Tight-lipped detectives moved silently between the van and a blue house on the west side of the street.
They snapped pictures of the yard, the front of the two-story home, a white trailer parked in the driveway and a mobile white shed situated next to it. A soft yellow light showed through the curtains in a window at the front of the house, and the door next to the garage was ajar.
The home belonged to Israel Keyes, an Anchorage contractor charged with the kidnapping and death of 18-year-old Samantha Koenig in early February. But in early March, it was just one milestone in the months-long search to find Koenig’s abductor. Police released little information about their investigation, but detectives worked around the clock to follow leads, examine tips and interview potential witnesses.
During one point in the investigation, a spokesman for the police department said detectives put in as many as 55 overtime hours in a desperate attempt to bring the kidnapped teenager home. They weren’t the only public servants committing extra hours to their city: The same snow piled along Keyes’ driveway March 13 was just a portion of the more than eleven feet of total winter snowfall, and road crews had battled unrelenting, record-breaking accumulation all season.
Both the police and public works departments joined the ranks of municipal agencies that have dipped into the red over the first quarter of 2012. Along with finance and information technology, the departments are on a fast track to depleting their annual labor budgets.
An Anchorage Assembly resolution scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday would designate $3.7 million, the last of the prior year’s budget reserves, to put department budgets back in line. The city could also turn to two separate reserve funds if spending continued to grow, but Budget Director Cheryl Frasca said first quarter increases were normal parts of the budgetary process.
She said the Finance Department, which had already blazed through 130 percent of its overtime budget, was in the process of implementing a citywide payroll and finance program, “the backbone of the city.” It was a complicated and expensive process. Frasca said it went hand-in-hand with the implementation of the new Kronos human resources software, and the Employee Relations Department had already spent nearly three quarters of its overtime budget on system projects.
Once the programs are in place, local finance officials said they will lead to massive savings in labor and time over the years.
“We’re zeroing in,” Frasca said. “It just takes a lot of time.”
Besides covering Kronos and SAP-related overtime costs, the assembly planned on allotting an additional $1.7 million to cover sky-high winter snow removal expenses. Additional funding would also cover increased overtime costs in the Public Transportation Department, which suffered from personnel shortages following a batch of retirements earlier this year.