Public safety personnel worked millions of dollars in overtime for the city of Vancouver and Clark County last year, and men earned most of it.
Out of the top-50 overtime earners in the city in 2015, one was a woman. In the county, four were women.
Fire Battalion Chief Kevin Griffee took home the most overtime in the city, earning $88,311 last year in addition to his base salary of $129,528. Police Sgt. Deborah Libbey’s $31,004 in overtime was the highest of any woman in the city. Her base salary was $93,516.
The county’s top overtime earner was sheriff’s Sgt. Anthony Barnes, who earned $64,483 in overtime above his $87,610 base salary. Sheriff’s Sgt. Linda Hayes worked the most overtime of the women, earning $34,210 in addition to her base salary of $98,968.
The gender imbalance in overtime earnings, Vancouver Police Department Lt. Kathy McNicholas said, comes down to officers’ career interests. Some divisions work more overtime than others, said McNicholas, whose $28,468 in overtime ranked her 57th on the city’s list.
McNicholas, whose base salary was $117,912, assisted police spokeswoman Kim Kapp last year as a public information officer. She also filled in for special operations (SWAT, K-9, bomb team negotiators), was the crisis intervention team coordinator, served on advisory boards and ran a Neighborhood Response Team unit, which involves search warrants and high-profile cases. All of those duties involve overtime, she said.
Police and firefighters rack up so much overtime — in some cases amounting to half their annual salaries or more — because their departments require minimum staffing levels to function. When people aren’t available to work, substitutes must be called in, and they’re paid overtime for extra hours. Vacancies, injuries and training contribute to overtime costs, as well as major emergencies and times when additional staff need to be called in, such as hot, dry summer days and the Fourth of July, according to Vancouver fire Chief Joe Molina and police Chief James McElvain.
Some fire department members, such as Griffee, are certified for incident management and wildland firefighting. They rack up overtime paid by other agencies when they’re called away to help with natural disasters, such as wildfires and landslides. When they’re gone, others must step in for them, which leads to overtime in their department, some of which is reimbursed by other agencies.
Molina and McElvain have said it’s more efficient to pay overtime than hire more staff members due to the high cost of benefits.
Last year, the city of Vancouver spent $111.9 million on payroll out of its $492.8 million budget for all funds, including the capital and operating budget. Overtime costs accounted for $6.1 million, according to the city. Clark County spent $153.5 million of its $480.8 million budget on payroll in 2015. Of the payroll amount, $3.9 million was overtime, according to the county.