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Fire overtime in Largo exceeds budget for sixth year

LARGO — Overtime for firefighters is expected to cost Largo taxpayers more than a million dollars this year — about 90 percent more than the fire department's overtime budget.

This will be the sixth year in a row that the fire department has outspent its budget, a situation Chief Shelby Willis blames in large part on understaffing. Understaffing, she said, accounts for about 79 percent of the overtime. The other 21 percent is caused by training, the need to staff special events and the department's explorer program. The explorer program is devoted to teens who want to become firefighters.

The department's overtime budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year is $600,000. Largo figures show that the department has already spent $760,000 on overtime and expects the total to be about $1.12 million by the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

Willis said much of the overtime problem should be solved by new hires. The department in July hired four firefighters to help fill seven vacancies. Largo is recruiting for the remaining openings. In addition, the department wants to hire three more firefighters in 2016 and three in 2017.

The Largo Fire Department currently has 141 positions, including administration and support personnel, and an overall budget of about $20.4 million. Of that, about $14.3 million is devoted to personnel.

Overtime first became a problem in 2010 when the fire department's overtime spending outstripped the $439,000 overtime budget by about $58,637, or 13.4 percent. The problem grew worse through 2012, when overtime spending exceeded the $468,000 overtime budget by about $276,675, or 59.1 percent.

Fire chiefs tried to control costs by reducing staffing and fire vehicles. But, at the same time, the number of calls for service was climbing by 33 percent when compared with 2009.

But, this year, the city is left with few units to take out of service and the fear that further reduction of staffing could adversely impact emergency response.

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