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Interim fire chief made $16K in OT in 2 weeks - abc27 WHTM

Interim fire chief made $16K in OT in 2 weeks

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Getting paid while you sleep? That may sound too good to be true, unless you were Harrisburg's interim fire chief.

Documents obtained by abc27 News show more than $16,000 in overtime was paid in a two-week pay period.

Jaws dropped when many learned an interim fire chief recently earned $19,000 for one paycheck.

In early October, Harrisburg Fire Chief Robert Talloni announced he was leaving for a professor job at a college in New Haven, Connecticut – his s home state.

Shortly after Talloni's departure, Harrisburg named Battalion Chief Michael Horst acting fire chief.

A timesheet obtained by abc27 News from the pay period of October 7 to October 20 revealed Horst worked 320 hours of overtime.

An inner-office email explained Horst was paid "in accordance with how previous interim chiefs were paid due to them being on-call 24/7."

According to the timesheet, Horst's hourly overtime rate was $52, earning $16,339.44 just in overtime for that specific pay period. That pay combined with Horst's 80 hours of regular pay equated to little more than $19,000 for one paycheck.

Residents like Raymond Tulley were shocked to learn a city employee could earn so much in two weeks.

"Wouldn't you come in town and do something for two weeks and get $19,000 and move on?" he said. "That's a pretty nice healthy paycheck for two week's work."

Harrisburg City Treasurer John Campbell was also unaware of the pay scale policy that led to Horst's paycheck.

"It's impossible for someone to work 24 hours, we all need to sleep at some point," he said. "Even if that individual is on-call, we're all on-call. We're here to work for our city."

Campbell, who lives in the city, said he understands that overtime is an essential part for city employees, but he pointed out there is an ethical line that was crossed in this situation.

"Overtime is certainly necessary in some instances," he said. "Certainly, fire and police have ... deserve that is it's required to make sure that we're safe. But, this particular issue ... if you're working 24 hours that just isn't practical."

Horst retired as a battalion chief at the end of October after dedicating 34 years of service to protection the residents of Harrisburg.

Tulley and Campbell both said nobody denies the importance of Horst's service working in public safety, however both turn the table on the administration.

Many wonder why a cash-strapped city would allow a policy that handcuffs them even more.

"We can't afford tax rates that are increasing," said Campbell, "and that's what's going to happen if this continues."

Tulley echoed those concerns.

"Nothing changes and nothing will change as long as they keep allowing such things to happen," he said.

Chief Operating Officer Bob Philbin said once the city recognized the "past practice," he met with the local fire union to change the policy regarding overtime.

Philbin said no longer will an interim fire chief be paid around the clock for being on-call.

He said the chief will only be paid overtime if it warrants that person's services like any other employee beyond regular hours.

Philbin said he reached out to Horst and asked him to return some of his funds, but he declined his request.

 

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