Paid overtime returns for New Orleans police, fire departments
Overtime was temporarily suspended to combat economic loss related to the pandemic
By Jessica Williams
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate
NEW ORLEANS — Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration has reinstated paid overtime for public safety departments, the latest sign of recovery for a municipal government that took a fiscal beating amid coronavirus restrictions.
The New Orleans Police Department and New Orleans Fire Department will see a collective $7.2 million in overtime pay through the rest of this year after having gone without for much of the pandemic, Cantrell and public safety leaders said at a Tuesday press conference.
The city also expects to reinstate overtime for its Emergency Medical Services division once leaders put a critical eye on that department's budget to ensure it can absorb the extra cost.
Officials hope the change will boost the morale of first responders who have lost income in recent months as overtime has been halted. The change is also meant to ensure that police in the field can better tackle the issue of violent crime; overtime at NOPD, for example, will be offered to officers and sergeants only.
"Our road to recovery truly depends on us reopening this city safely, and ensuring that we protect our residents as well as our visitors," Cantrell said. "It is important that we move forward with a full complement again to our public safety team."
The move is another positive economic sign for a city that is poised to receive a whopping $375 million in federal relief funds under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed this month.
In recent weeks, visitors — and with them the revenue from sales taxes — have started to trickle back into New Orleans amid rising COVID-19 vaccinations and looser restrictions on restaurants and bars.
Last week, Cantrell announced the end of furloughs for about 1,900 city employees who earn over $35,000 a year and who had since October taken a 10% cut from their paychecks.
Earlie this year, before the relief funds were announced, the mayor had ended unpaid days for public safety employees by tapping into a line of credit.
Though the city plans to set up a spending task force to determine how the large pile of aid should be used, officials have said they are likely to stretch out some of the funds over a few years.
On tap for now, though, are extra paid hours for a police department that will need manpower as people begin to increasingly go out in public this summer and fall, and for a fire department that has had to take some of its crews out of service amid staffing shortages.
The overtime was officially restored on Sunday.
NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said the paid time will be used to entice officers to work extra shifts to combat the city's rising violent crime rate and to increase police visibility in certain districts. The agency's recruiters will also use the overtime to stay in contact with potential hires in order to help expand the force, he said.
"We are starting a [recruit] class next month, and we want to ensure that that class can be as big as we can possibly handle it, given the COVID restrictions," Ferguson said.
NOFD Chief Roman Nelson said his department will be able to have more crews respond to incidents and return its rescue units to full staffing with the hours.
Collectively, the city saved between $15 and $18 million last year through the elimination of overtime and the lack of special events in the city, Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño said.
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