Number of Pa. firefighters earning 6-figures increasing

The Scranton mayor said the firefighters earned every penny by working overtime assignments

By Jim Lockwood
The Times-Tribune

SCRANTON, Pa. — More Scranton police officers and firefighters joined the $100,000 club last year.

Overtime and raises boosted the pay last year for most of the 22 police officers and firefighters who earned six figures, a Sunday Times analysis of earnings found. Eighteen earned $100,000 in 2014.

Of the 22, eight firefighters earned more than $100,000 last year compared with four in 2014, while 14 Scranton police officers did in both years.

Patrolman Chris Kaushas earned the most — $131,505, which includes $46,428 in overtime for working 1,020 extra hours, the newspaper found. His regular wages are $85,077.

A regular wage can include base salary, longevity pay, insurance buyback, clothing allowance and severance pay.

David Gervasi, who retired in June after 29 years, was the top paid firefighter last year, with a wage of $122,309 that included severance pay. He worked no overtime in 2015.

Attempts to reach Patrolman Kaushas and Mr. Gervasi were unsuccessful.

Unless overtime drops sharply, there are signs even more will earn six figures. Last year, 75 police officers and firefighters earned between $90,000 and $100,000, more than double the 35 who earned in that range in 2014.

Workers who amass overtime earn every penny, said Mayor Bill Courtright.

“There’s a ton of extra duty in those six figures,” he said. “Those people are working all those hours.”

Eyebrow raising?
Still, in a city with a median household income of $37,551, having a growing number of workers with six-figure pay could raise eyebrows for several reasons:

-- Scranton remains, since 1992, designated as financially distressed under state Act 47.

-- The city still is recovering from the fiscal default and cash-flow crisis of 2012.

-- City property taxes rose 22 percent in 2013; 56.7 percent in 2014; 18 percent in 2015; and 5.7 percent in 2016.

-- The annual garbage fee rose to $300 in 2014, from $178.

-- The city’s pension funds rank among the most severely distressed in the state.

-- The Courtright administration’s recovery plan calls for monetization of assets, including the Scranton Sewer Authority and Scranton Parking Authority garages, both of which are underway.

-- The mayor just announced a back pay settlement of $31.5 million overdue to both police and fire unions and retirees from a landmark 2011 state Supreme Court arbitration award in favor of the unions.

Seniority matters
Under their union contracts, senior, higher-paid officers and firefighters get first shot at overtime assignments.

Paid at a rate of time-and-one-half, overtime is offered and assigned based on seniority and a rotation list, a standard method that eliminates any possibility of favoritism, said Police Chief Carl Graziano and Deputy Fire Chief Al Lucas.

Wherever the list ends on any given day is where the next day’s assignments begin, which means junior employees can get a crack at overtime. Some employees — long-timers and relative newcomers — soak up every second of overtime offered, while others choose to work little or no overtime, the chiefs said.

A firefighter’s regular shift is 24 hours, followed by 48 hours off. A typical overtime firefighter shift runs for 12 hours, or half of a regular 24-hour shift that needs to be filled.

“If a guy is willing to come in (on overtime), I applaud him,” said Deputy Chief Lucas, who made $110,065 last year, which included about $1,978 in overtime. “One guy takes it every time, and one guy never takes it.”

Police and fire department heads, who do not get overtime, are not included in the newspaper’s analysis. Chief Graziano earned $118,773 last year while Fire Chief Patrick DeSarno earned $67,228.

City Business Administrator David Bulzoni pointed out the wages and overtime represent contractual obligations for the city.

“These are professional positions and they’re paid as professionals,” he said.

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