Johnstown FD staff make up 70% of city’s highest paid employees; EMS OT cited as reason

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Seven of the top 10 highest paid employees in the City of Johnstown are in the Fire Department. The high annual incomes are, in part, because firefighters pull double duty providing emergency response services, which leads to considerable overtime billing, according to Fire Chief Bruce Heberer. 

“It’s part of the business with EMS service,” Heberer said, explaining that the department has a maximum of six people working per shift. “The issue is we don’t have enough medics. The more medics we get trained, the less overtime there is going to be.”

The Fire Department has been providing ambulance services in the city since 2019. While that service does bring in revenue from ambulance charge reimbursements, it also costs the city in staff time — and that staff time comes with ample overtime billing that can be unpredictable. The chief and Mayor Amy Praught say they are open to discussions that could change the picture of ambulance services in Johnstown, ultimately leading to less overtime billing among Fire Department personnel.

“The issue is every time we send the ambulance out we want to make sure we have safe staffing in case there is a fire called. But it’s in short increments,” Heberer said. “It seems like a lot, but if you’re talking about the 1,350 or some calls that we had for EMS over the year, it breaks down into small increments. They are not there for the whole shift. They are called out when the ambulance is gone and then they come back.”

The fire chief said the department has averaged about $200,000 in annual overtime pay since taking on ambulance services. However, the he said those expenses are covered by reimbursements for ambulance charges.

The city’s 2022 budget predicts $405,000 in revenue from ambulance charges, up from $325,000 collected in 2021 and $395,000 collected in 2020. The department’s personal service expenditures in 2022 are set at $245,000 compared to $242,000 last year and down from $285,000 in 2020, according to the city’s budget.

Heberer was the city’s highest paid employee in 2021, making a base salary of $87,945.76 with $33,873.47 of overtime paid on top, according to the city’s salary records, which The Leader-Herald obtained from Treasurer Thomas Herr through a Freedom of Information Law request. Heberer noted that some of his overtime in 2021 was the result of him selling back comp time ahead of his planned retirement next year. 

The city’s second highest paid employee in 2021 was Fire Captain James McCredie, earning a $62,437.26 wage with $39,048.78 in overtime paid on top. City Engineer Christopher Vose was the third highest paid employee, making $77,890.90 base and $8,878.40 in overtime pay. Police Chief David Gilbo, making $80,859.88 and $5,633.25 of overtime, was fourth, with fire department staff occupying the next four slots, a police captain claiming the ninth spot and an assistant fire chief rounding out the list. The police captain made less than $500 in overtime, compared to more than $15,000 in overtime collected by two fire captains.

Find a full breakdown of the ten highest-paid city employees at the end of this story.

POTENTIAL ALTERNATIVES

Praught and Heberer said they are open to considering options that would reduce the amount of staff hours firefighters have to commit in order for the department to provide ambulance services.

“To lose [overtime] significantly we would need to have one more person per shift,” Heberer said. “One of the things that we’re going to discuss is maybe hiring full-time medics that will be a lower cost than hiring a firefighter medic. Somebody who would just do EMS, so that would significantly reduce the amount of overtime.

“That’s going to be one of my proposals going through the council, but I’ve just got to do some more research on costs of hiring someone full-time versus paying overtime.”

Praught said the first step is to get a handle on the balance between revenue and expenditures for providing emergency services.

“I’m working with the treasurer now. We’re going to monitor how the city pays for the ambulance service and how much is really expended on the ambulance on a yearly basis. We have to make sure we’re right on that,” Praught said. “Our goal this year is to see if we can track the expenses versus the revenue of this service that we offer.”

Praught said funding help for ambulance services may be available from Fulton County, but the first step is getting a clear handle on the financial picture.

“If they wish to support us, we want to make sure we’re getting the right amount of money so it doesn’t end up costing the City of Johnstown taxpayers any money,” the mayor said.

The city is currently working on filing three years of financial reports — 2018 to 2020 — which former Treasurer Mike Gifford, who left office roughly three months before his scheduled retirement, failed to file. While Gifford’s heaviest dispute was with the Water Board over their finances, he also sparred with the Fire Department.

Praught said her priority is to get a clear financial picture and then discuss ideas.

“My plan is to sit down with our chief and talk about the numbers and talk about alternatives with maybe hiring full-time EMTs versus using firefighters as EMTs,” she said. “We’ll just throw around ideas. But it’s definitely something we’ll be looking at.”

City Engineer Chris Vose said his salary and overtime pay is justified, in part, by the hours he spends responding to overnight emergencies and serving on the Gloversville-Johnstown Joint Sewer Board.

“We hope that [members of the public] think that it’s justified,” Vose said. “At some point you have to pay people what they are worth.”

Police Chief David Gilbo did not return a voicemail request seeking comment on Wednesday.

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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City of Johnstown 

10 Highest paid 2021

Employee  Position  Wages  Overtime  Total
Bruce Heberer  Fire Chief  87,945.76  33,873.47  121,819.23
James McCredie  Fire Captain  62,437.26  39,048.78  101,486.04
Christopher Vose  City Engineer  77,890.90 8,878.40 86,769.30
David Gilbo  Police Chief  80,859.88 5,633.25 86,493.13
Jeremiah Van Every  Fire Captain  64,195.80  16,756.64 80,952.44
Michael Frank  Fire Captain  61,256.80  15,331.50 76,588.30
Lawrence O’Regan  Assistant Fire Chief  68,688.62 7,822.92 76,511.54
Scott Deninno  Assistant Fire Chief  68,781.44 6,801.21 75,582.65
Eric Johnson  Police Captain  74,440.38 497.91 74,938.29
Paul Stegel  Assistant Fire Chief  66,178.84 7,808.18 73,987.02

 

By Andrew Waite

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