Local police departments weigh overtime costs as budget season approaches
A York Area Regional Police officer earned nearly $138,000 last year before taxes, according to salary data obtained through a Right-to-Know Law request.
Although that officer's base salary was about $96,000, police officers are often the largest drivers in overtime costs because of the unpredictability of their jobs, potentially bringing trouble to their respective budgets.
"The concern surrounds the fact that overtime is generated for conditions not predictable by management," said York City Police Chief Troy Bankert. "For example, when a major incident occurs and we need to recall officers, which invokes contractual obligations of overtime."
When looking at data from York Area Regional, Southwestern Regional and York City — all of which are much different sizes — total overtime costs can be as high as $900,000 annually and comprise about 5% of the departments' total budgets.
And when it comes to overtime costs, the line item is just a prediction based on historical data. If the actual costs exceed that estimate, a budget amendment would be required to take money from elsewhere.
With just more than 100 officers, the York City Police Department racked up about $900,000 in overtime last year. One officer was paid more than $33,000 for overtime hours, according to salary data.
That overtime pay is more than the median household income of York City residents.
A large chunk of those hours end up being paid by taxpayer funds, but not all of them, Bankert emphasized.
The city budgets roughly $540,000 for predicted overtime costs, which will again come up as departments work on their budgets over the summer. The remaining expenses are reimbursed through contracts with private and public entities.
The costs also are driven by the sheer size of York City's force, as it's the largest in York County.
As a middle ground, York Area Regional Police Department paid its 45 officers roughly $190,000 in total overtime. The most an officer earned in overtime was $41,000.
But the department's overtime costs haven't been an issue, as they have never required tinkering with the budget after the fact, York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon said.
"Since it's never happened, it's not something I really project for," he said.
At York Area Regional and York City, some officers surpassed the chiefs' salaries because of overtime they racked up — something chiefs usually don't clock much of.
Southwestern Regional Police, a much smaller department with just 14 officers, paid officers in total about $90,000 in overtime last year. The most a single officer earned in overtime was $12,000.
Chief Greg Bean said his department doesn't sweat the costs so much, although he echoed the potential for overtime costs to surpass the budgeted amount in the case of unpredictable events.
"(The costs) are dictated by our circumstances, and they tend to be similar year after year," Bean said. "I don't know if it's any more of a burden than our fuel costs and those kinds of things. We have a pretty good handle of what it's going to be."
Departments could hire more officers to cut down on overtime hours, but hiring an officer is more expensive than simply paying overtime because of the cost of officer salaries and benefits, Bean added.
Despite the various sizes of the departments, their officers' average overtime pay and gross salaries are similar.
York Area Regional officers edged out the other two in regard to gross income, with officers making on average $89,000 last year before taxes. York City had the most overtime pay, averaging about $9,200 per officer.
York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon was the highest paid among the three chiefs, earning $117,245 before taxes.
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.