ELYRIA — The year 2013 was reminiscent of 2008 in terms of who made the most money in the city of Elyria and why, except for one aspect.
Then the top earners were mostly Elyria firefighters, many of whom racked up thousands of dollars in overtime to deal with reduced staffing levels in the department.
This year, it’s the Elyria Police Department that is down in numbers and true to form, officers are racking up tens of thousands of dollars in overtime.
Most of the city’s top-paid employees are police officers — some nearly doubling their annual salaries with the extra hours they are working.
At the top of the city’s 646 full-time, part-time and seasonal workers is Officer Michael Darmstadt. He started with the department in September 1994 and after nearly two decades is now training rookies.
He has a base salary of $51,834.64. With longevity, overtime and other forms of compensation, he ended the year making $120,457.18. It was nearly $15,000 more than Police Chief Duane Whitely made last year, and it reached that high in part because he earned $48,330.62 in overtime.
Whitely said overtime and the number of officers in the department are closely related.
While his budget allows him to have 85 police officers, right now there are 79 on his payroll. Four of the 79 are new recruits and are not counted in daily numbers.
To keep the department running and dealing with the calls, overtime is needed — the kind he called “excessively high” earlier this year.
“But it did not blow my budget,” he said. “Basically the money I thought I was going to spend on salaries was spent on overtime.”
Whitely said the department lost seven officers in 2013, a year when it expected just two retirements. Those loses, coupled with an expired Civil Service hiring list, made it impossible to replace the depleted ranks sooner.
The four new hires in the department did not come on board until the beginning of this year.
Overtime always has been an issue for the safety forces.
Between 2008 and 2013, the city spent $2,582,947.92 in police overtime with 2013 topping out at $722,322, according to figures provided by Finance Director Ted Pileski.
By contrast, the Fire Department’s overtime figures total $1,778,937.33 during that same six-year time frame. Last year’s overtime total for the department was $187,034.84.
Excessive overtime does come with its drawbacks, said Fire Chief Rich Benton.
“You are literally just working your guys into the ground,” he said. “It builds and when you get to the early part of October or November, they are just spent.”
After Darmstadt, the next-highest overtime earner in the department was Officer William Witt. He was also the second-highest-paid employee of the year, earning $119,445.84, which included $47,084.60 in overtime.
Getting a handle on the overtime will not be easy.
Assistant Safety Service Director Bruce Shade said the department is doing everything it can to up its ranks, but logistically speaking, only four candidates at a time can go through the 19-week training program. The city is already in the process of interviewing the next batch of recruits.
“We want to have at least two more training groups after the one we have now,” he said. “We know more retirements are coming, and we have to get in the cycle of hiring as retirements come so the numbers don’t get down too low.”
Whitely said with the four officers brought on earlier this year and pending retirements, he only gained one additional officer.
Benton said overtime tallies for his department did not drop until there was a change in the way the department was run. Minimum manning was done away with some years ago and, more recently, a few promotions were made to cut out the need to pay firefighters overtime when they were called in to act as supervisors.
“In 2009, the previous administration abolished minimum manpower and demoted several employees,” he said. “When the promotions were reinstated, overtime pay was cut in half for a noticeable cost savings.”
But soon, history could repeat itself in the Fire Department.
A federal grant that has kept the roster at 75 firefighters for several years is set to run out at the end of this year, and 23 firefighter jobs will be on the line. City officials have said the budget can’t absorb the employees so layoffs and a return to reduced numbers are all but certain.
Whitely said he continues to watch overtime, but also knows his officers did a lot of good work in 2013.
There were 44,447 calls for service in 2013, up by more than 3,000 calls in 2012.
The Narcotics Unit was reinstituted in March 2013, resulting in 220 drug and felony warrant arrests. More than 80 drug dealers were arrested, along with the seizure of more than $900,000 in illegal drugs.
“These guys are on top of this, but we don’t have enough of them,” Mayor Holly Brinda said Tuesday in her State of the City address.
Brinda would like to see the Elyria police ranks brought up to 90 officers, but short of the passage of a new tax measure, said she doesn’t see how the city can afford any additional hires.
Top 10 highest-paid Elyria City employees in 2013
Department, Employee, Salary
- Police, Michael Darmstadt, $120,457.18
- Police, William Witt, $119,445.84
- Fire, Ronald Brlas, $114,494.20
- Finance director, Ted Pileski, $114,107.62
- Fire, Joe Pronesti, $109,830.42
- Police, Phil Hammond, $109,187.39
- Police, Andrew Eichenlaub, $105,879.81
- Police, Duane Whitely, $105,860.42
- Police, Chris Costantino, $105,569.78
- Police, Garrett Longacre, $105,501.12
Source: Elyria Finance Director’s Office