LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB) - An audit by the NYS Comptroller points to something shifty going on in the ranks of the Lackawanna Fire Department.
The state audit uncovered the practice of "shift swapping" among Lackawanna's bravest, which has become an accounting nightmare for the city. To make sure every platoon has its full complement, a firefighter might cover for a fellow worker to take time off and make up the time later.
But some firefighters don't make the time up. And in this report, the State Comptroller claims some firefighters were paid more than $120,000 over a five-year period for time they did not work.
Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski said, "As long as that shell game continues under the paper process we're using, we're going to get lost in the shuffle."
The mayor says when shift swapping leads to those discrepancies, firefighters might get credit for retirement benefits they haven't earned or overtime they have not accrued. And overtime is way over budget.
"But there is definitely a correlation between shift swapping and our inflated overtime. And we need to figure out how we can bring them both down," he added.
Szymanski says the fire department is getting a handle on the overtime problem and four new firefighters made possible by a federal grant will control the problem even more. The shift swapping will be a bigger issue. But Szymanski adds, the city will always have full coverage.
"There will never be undermanned fire platoons in the city. We will always have the proper complement to work in. The problem is the people working it, working overtime as opposed to their regular shifts," he said.
The mayor believes the best way to get a full accounting of firefighters' time is by modernizing their timekeeping. Right now it is all done on paper.
Szymanski is also consulting with the city's attorney to see about recovering some of those unearned payouts.
When you look at the numbers, West Seneca and Tonawanda collect more money per capita than Amherst, which collects $2.6 million in court fines.
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