SAN DIEGO — San Diego taxpayers shelled out more than $126 million in overtime payments in 2022, over $13 million more than the previous year, according to public records obtained by CBS 8.
It is the largest overtime payout since at least 2015 and the highest year-over-year increase since 2019, prior to the pandemic.
In all, 379 city employees made more in overtime last year than they did in base salary.
Top City Departments for Overtime
As is the case every year, San Diego's Police and Fire Departments amassed the highest departmental overtime totals with the fire department paying more than $52 million last year in overtime while city police officers received $43.1 million.
The third highest overtime payout went to the city's Public Utilities Department with $12.6 million followed by Development Services with $3.5 million, followed by Environmental Services, and Parks and Recreation.
When comparing last year's overtime amount with overtime expenditures made in 2021, the highest increase occurred in the police department, seeing a nearly $7 million increase from the previous year. The $43.1 million to pay for police overtime was also $6.8 million over budget, according to a report from the San Diego Independent Budget Analyst.
The second-highest department increase in overtime was seen in the Public Utilities Department. That department paid nearly $2.5 million more in 2022 than it did in 2021.
Development Services also saw an increase of $892,105, while Parks and Recreation paid out more than $1 million more than in 2021, and the Transportation Department also saw a $948,000 increase as well.
Overall, however, the city's Public Safety Departments continue to pay out a vast majority of overtime.
Public Safety Overtime Pay
Yet while the Fire Department had the highest overtime payout, the department reduced its overtime from 2021 compared to 2022 by more than $877,000.
The reduction, says a spokesperson for the fire department, is part of its goal to boost staffing levels.
"It’s not unusual for public safety departments to exceed their overtime budgets because there is no way to predict emergencies that occur which require additional staffing," writes the spokesperson.
Those emergencies include protests, strike teams, incident management teams, as well as day-to-day staffing issues.
"The SDFD staffing requirement is different than any other department in our organization. We must staff a crew of four firefighters per engine or truck at all our stations for 24-hour shifts. When our crews are deployed, the spots vacated by the firefighters who deploy have to be filled. We use overtime staffing to fill those spots," wrote the spokesperson.
Added the spokesperson, "Increasing the overtime budget, to begin with, would significantly reduce this issue. In other words, we believe if the overtime budget was adequately funded, excess each year would be minimal. Barring, of course, any large-scale, local emergency. Thus, the mayor and council have proposed an increase to the overtime budget for FY24 to account for increases in wages which would right-size the budget."
The department, says the spokesperson, plans to reach full staffing as well as increase hiring to create a "pool of firefighters" to fill empty shifts created by vacations, or medical or personal time off.
And while the fire department was outspoken on its work to cut overtime spending, the police department declined to comment on the increase in overtime pay.
In recent months, however, the department and Chief Nisleit have chronicled the force's staffing shortages and the impacts those shortages create, namely response times.
Nisleit has urged the Mayor and elected officials to increase wages in order to address what the department estimates is a shortage of nearly 200 officers, a level not seen in nearly 35 years. The shortage has caused response times to double with the exception of the highest priority calls.
In May, CBS 8 reported a story of a woman who said her father died while waiting nearly an hour for medics to arrive as he was experiencing a medical health emergency.
Which Jobs Saw The Highest Overtime?
In all, records show that 379 city employees made more in overtime than they did in base salary.
The highest annual overtime payouts went to a fire engineer who raked in $256,533 in overtime wages while his regular annual pay was just $28,837.
A Police Officer II employee made the second highest amount, collecting $246,909 in overtime, nearly $150,000 more than they earned in regular pay.
In all, six employees, all of which were employed by either fire or police departments, earned over $200,000 last year. A structural engineer at the city's Development Services Department made the most out of those not in fire or police departments, earning $129,799 in overtime, nearly $14,000 more than their annual salary.
Response from the City
In regards to the overall budgetary issues, a city spokesperson told CBS 8 that the city continues to work its way out from staffing impacts that were caused by the pandemic.
"The City is actively working to fill vacancies," said the spokesperson. "As with other employers around the country, the pandemic impacted the city's ability to hire and we are catching up. When we have vacancies, services still need to be provided, so that can mean overtime for employees. Our job fair in March was widely successful in helping the City quickly fill positions in key departments, including the Library."