|DERRY SPENT THOUSANDS IN OT LAST YEAR,
INCLUDING 15 FIRE DEPARTMENT EMPLOYEES.
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Four out of five of Derry’s top earners in 2010 came from the town’s fire department, each grossing more than $120,000 last year, including thousands in overtime pay.
Altogether, 32 municipal and school employees made more than $100,000 last year in Derry, a town of about 34,000 people, according to a review of municipal and school district salaries. Fifteen of those positions belong to the fire department.
For Derry Town Councilor Kevin Coyle, those numbers are too high.
“That 30 people in the town of Derry make over $100,000 is unbelievable, and it’s because of poorly negotiated union contracts,” said Coyle. “I think the general public is going to be upset about the numbers, and you’ve got to realize it’s only the tip of the iceberg when you look at benefits.”
Derry’s top earner in 2010 was fire Battalion Chief David Hoffman, who grossed $130,283 including $18,515 in overtime pay, according to documents furnished by the town.
Hoffman, a 28-year member of Derry’s fire department, put in 357 overtime hours last year on top of his regular 42-hour work week, according to Derry Chief Financial Officer Frank Childs.
Total compensation numbers also include any earned vacation and sick time that was cashed in during 2010 and buyouts for employees who do not use the town’s health insurance.
Derry’s fire department spent roughly $824,000 in overtime pay last year.
By comparison, Londonderry, with an estimated population of 25,000 people, spent $496,000 in fire overtime last year. With 30,000 residents, Salem’s fire department spent $1.2 million in overtime in 2010.
Klauber, who made $123,980 last year, said some of those overtime costs can be attributed to the fact that Derry has no other administrative fire officers working on a salary. Besides Klauber, all Derry firefighters are members of the same union and earn an hourly wage.
“We’ve made the decision here that it was more important to have as many people on the line as possible each day than it was to have them in the office,” Klauber said. “The price we pay for that is, unfortunately, we have to bring people in on their days off to help.”
Klauber said his goal is to have 16 firefighters on at all times, but he said he can drop down to 15 people before having to shut one of the town’s four fire stations.
About $700,000 is budgeted each year to cover fire overtime costs, he said.
“No matter how we slice it, there’s only so much money to be had in overtime, and there’s always going to be people who want to work more overtime than others,” Klauber said.
While Council Vice Chairman Neil Wetherbee said he would like to see a reining-in of overtime spending, he said it’s difficult to find the right balance between cost and service.
“It’s real easy for people to get all fired up and say how can these people be making all this money — and believe me, these numbers jump out at us as we’re going through the budget,” Wetherbee said. “But when you get down to the nittygritty, what is the solution? Basically, you can hire more people or you can drastically reduce your level of service.”
But Councilor Janet Fairbanks said she thinks it’s time to evaluate just what kind of fire coverage residents are willing to pay for.
“We have to look at the level of service we’re providing and ask the Derry taxpayer, is this the level of service you want?” she said. “And to me, it’s a Cadillac level of service. Can we get by with less? Probably.”
On the police side, Derry spent about $543,000 in officer overtime in 2010, less than other similarly sized towns studied.
Londonderry spent $609,000 in police overtime last year. In Salem, officers earned about $1 million in overtime in 2010.
In Derry, no police officer is allowed to work more than 72 hours in regular and extra shifts in a single week, said Derry police Chief Edward Garone.
“It’s not that as soon as we have a vacancy, we fill it,” said Garone. “We assess our manpower needs and in some instances, for example late nights, we try to fill those positions as best we can because those are the only officers on duty. During the day we may run a car light depending on the availability of dollars and manpower.”
Garone earned $130,185 last year, at least $20,000 more than his counterparts in Londonderry, Salem and Merrimack, a town with an estimated 26,000 residents.
Councilor Joel Olbricht said that the compensation of Derry’s top-earners, including Garone, is tied to longevity and success.
“We have some employees that are earning at some pretty top rates, but they are also employees that have been around for a long time and are great employees,” he said. “The people at the top scale are top earners because they are top performers, and that’s true in any company.”
In his first year, Derry Town Administrator John Anderson will earn $110,000 with a $4,200 vehicle allowance — less than managers in surrounding towns.
But council Chairman Brad Benson said he expects Anderson’s salary will soon match what is found in the larger market.
“I would hope that as John asserts himself through the next few years, that his pay is appropriate and in line with other communities,” Benson said. “We want to make sure that our No. 1 manager is paid accordingly and in competition with other communities.”
At $117,740, Derry Cooperative School District Superintendent Mary Ellen Hannon made less than superintendents from other districts.
Derry’s school district primarily serves about 3,900 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, as most high school students attend private Pinkerton Academy on a tuition basis.
School Board Chairman Kevin Gordon said the board takes that unique situation into account when considering district salaries.
“It’s a struggle because we don’t have a high school and we don’t have a superintendent in charge of K through 12,” Gordon said. “Would we like to give (Hannon) more? Absolutely, but we have to think of the taxpayer.”