The Sullivan administration is asking the Anchorage Assembly to approve a request for $1.8 million to cover an overrun in last year's fire department budget.
Administration officials presented the Assembly members with the request at the Assembly's meeting Tuesday evening, attributing the costs to overtime pay for fire, rescue, and emergency medical workers.
Mayor Dan Sullivan attributed some of the costs to the fire department's minimum staffing levels, which he said sometimes force the city to pay overtime if enough workers decide simultaneously to take leave or vacation.
It also means that the city can't as easily cut back if the budget gets tight, like by putting employees on furlough.
"You have to maintain that staffing level -- you can't just work with less people," he said.
Sullivan also said he expected that out of the city's 24 departments, 23 had been under budget, and that the city would have an overall surplus from 2013 -- though it's not yet clear how large.
Assemblyman Bill Starr, who represents Eagle River and Chugiak and chairs the budget and finance committee, said in an interview that the department "blew their overtime budget," and added he had been asking Sullivan administration questions about a potential deficit since late last year.
"I saw the overtime, and I said back in October, November, 'Do we have a problem? Do we need to adjust the budget?'" he said. "You adjust the budget before the fiscal year closes."
He also said he was concerned about the impact on the 2014 budget, given that it was set off a 2013 baseline, apparently without accounting for the extra overtime.
Sullivan said that his administration "diligently" reports the fire department's numbers each month, including overtime.
"It's no surprise," he said. "The indications are very clear when a department is either going to clearly finish under budget or over budget."
Sullivan added that the 2013 numbers will be reviewed later this year and incorporated into the city's 2014 projections.
Starr said he plans to discuss the request at a budget and finance committee meeting next month.
REVIEW OF PORT OF ANCHORAGE CONTRACT FINDS NO CONFLICT OF INTEREST
A city review board has found no problems with the competitive process that led to the selection of engineering firm CH2M Hill as manager for the completion of Anchorage's port expansion project.
The Sullivan administration had picked CH2M Hill over six other firms for a five-year, $30 million contract to manage completion of the troubled expansion.
The firm is simultaneously being sued by the city over work done on the project by another company that CH2M Hill later acquired.
Given the litigation, the Anchorage Assembly decided to postpone approval of the contract, and instead referred it to the review board. An engineering firm involved in the project had also raised questions about the award in a letter to the board and the Assembly.
The letter, sent last week, asked whether CH2M Hill had a conflict of interest in applying for the management contract after previously reviewing some of the problems with the expansion.
But "there was no additional information submitted that showed proof of any wrongdoing by the Purchasing Department, and did not alter the opinion of the board in recommending award of the contract to CH2M Hill," wrote Paul Michelsohn, the chair of the review board, in a letter released by the Sullivan administration Tuesday.
The Assembly will review the contract at a special meeting on Feb. 7.
By Nathaniel Herz