Arundel auditor recommends hiring 84 more firefighters

February 27, 2004|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The county auditor has recommended that Anne Arundel County add dozens of firefighters to its Fire Department, which has been beset by a shrinking staff and skyrocketing overtime in recent years.

In a report this month to Anne Arundel leaders, County Auditor Teresa Sutherland said adding 84 firefighters to the 629-member department would cost $6.7 million. But she said that once the overtime savings are subtracted, the net cost would be about $768,500.

"For less than 1 million bucks to eliminate all of the fatigue and all of the morale problems ... In my opinion, it's worth it," Sutherland said yesterday.

The auditor arrived at the number 84 by calculating how many additional firefighters would have been needed to offset much of the $7.2 million in overtime used last fiscal year.

The report, dated Feb. 17 and obtained by The Sun through a public-records request, is the first to give specific financial information about Fire Department overtime since the issue surfaced in August. The auditor also suggested that firefighters may be abusing sick leave - something Fire Chief Roger C. Simonds has said is a problem.

The Sun reported last year that the county was spending millions more on firefighter overtime than other Baltimore area counties and that the fire chief had approved the use of overtime for an unauthorized warehouse renovation.

A newspaper analysis found that the Fire Department lacked adequate controls on overtime spending, and that bare-bones staffing caused officials routinely to dip into overtime to meet staffing requirements.

A task force created by County Executive Janet S. Owens submitted its findings about overtime last month, but the 21-page report gave no specifics about how much it would cost to add firefighters, which was the group's major finding. The county Budget Office is now analyzing the costs attached to the task force's recommendations.

Sutherland conducted her audit at the request of the County Council.

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