Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

In most businesses and government agencies, employees' salaries and benefits are the biggest part of the budget, so it follows logically that the more workers employed the greater the cost.

Not necessarily.

If an organization has so few workers that those on the payroll have to work a lot of extra hours, the attempt to run a lean operation can backfire and lead to corpulent overtime bills.

In some cases an outfit might save money by hiring a new employee and severely curtailing overtime.

Baker City isn't quite in that predicament, but in the fire department it's pretty close.

The department, whose employees also staff the city's ambulances (they actually spend more time on ambulance calls than on dousing fires), is one person short of its optimum staffing.

That means the department frequently has to call in off-duty firefighter/paramedics when there are multiple simultaneous fire or ambulance calls.

Over the past three fiscal years the fire department averaged $50,000 in overtime per year.

In the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, the overtime tab totaled $55,293 through the end of March. The city budgeted $50,000 for the entire fiscal year.

This year's increase isn't due solely to a staffing shortage. The fire department also had employees who were on unexpected medical leave, which boosted the overtime bill. Those issues probably won't recur in the next fiscal year.

Even so, the $50,000 the city has been doling out annually for overtime pay is nearly enough to hire a new employee.

City councilors recently discussed hiring a firefighter. It's an idea worth pursuing.