CRANFORD – Since last year, questions have continued to surface about the Cranford Fire Department’s overtime. Although some maintain the overtime budget is out of control, it actually went down the last two years.
Last year when township committee member Tom Hannen was mayor, the issue of fire department overtime was brought up and discussed during budget hearings in the fall.
According to information obtained by LocalSource, it was the intention of the Democratic majority, who were in control of the governing body at the time, not to give Fire Chief Lenny Dolan a raise in 2014 if overtime in his department did not go down significantly.
In January, control of the governing body shifted to the Republicans and the issue was not raised again.
However, rumors the fire department overtime budget exceeded $200,000 continued to circulate. In order to get an accurate overview of this departmental budget LocalSource used the Open Public Records Act to obtain financial figures from the last five years.
Overall, these numbers showed fire department overtime actually went down the last three years, dipping below $200,000 for each of the last two years.
In 2010, while the department’s overtime was at $148,094, in 2011 that number soared to $215,494.
But, in 2012, overtime dipped slightly to $209,291, and dropped again in 2013 to $179,528. So far this year, as of October, the overtime number was $103,578, according to the figures obtained from Township Clerk Tara Rowley.
In an interview late last week, Mayor Andy Kalnins explained that while overtime budgets have to be monitored, the fire department has to abide by state laws and contractual obligations with the township.
“It was reduced compared to last year and there was a significant reduction over the prior year,” the mayor said, explaining that the entire issue of overtime is not as cut and dry as one might believe.
“Unfortunately when even one firefighter is pulled off for mutual aid or an EMS run, that leaves a shift short a man and someone has to be called in on overtime,” Kalnins said, adding that they are addressing this issue so overtime drops even more in 2015.
The mayor said the governing body brought the number of firefighters on a shift up to the level so if a shift number drops because of an EMS call or another reason, calling someone in on overtime is no longer necessary.
“The problem is that the fire department has to maintain a certain level of firefighters on a shift. This means that if a firefighter calls in sick, someone else has to be brought in to cover,” the mayor said.
“It’s not only when they call out sick but also if they are on vacation or family leave,” he added, noting that by bringing firefighter staff levels up slightly on a shift, there is no need to call in a firefighter on overtime.
According to information obtained from the OPRA request, Dolan is receiving $134,366 in salary for 2014.
Kalnins said the township has also been working on bringing all department head salaries up to where they should be compared to other municipalities in the county and beyond.
In 2013 the township took a survey of what municipal department heads were making in other towns, which they have been using as a guideline.
For example, Dolan’s salary of $134,366 a year is low when compared to what other towns pay their fire chiefs. In fact, in most towns, with the exception of Plainfield, Scotch Plains, and Westfield, all other municipalities surveyed pay their fire chiefs in excess of $150,000.
In some cases, such as Hillside, the fire chief’s salary is as high as $200,512, while in Union the same position receives an annual salary of $192,132. In Elizabeth, a considerably larger municipality than Cranford, they pay their fire chief $191,648.
In surrounding counties, towns such as Madison pay their fire chief $126,000, and in Montclair the chief is paid $164,536.
The average salary for Madison, Montclair, Maplewood, South Orange and Millburn is $154,215, about $20,000 more a year than the Cranford fire chief’s salary.