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Investigation spikes Rotterdam police overtime

Tuesday, February 12, 2013
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— Donald DeMarco redefined what it means to have a long day at work last year.

The now-retired Rotterdam Police detective logged 122.5 hours of overtime over the course of the department’s two-week pay period ending April 19, 2012. At the time, he was on duty seven days a week, usually working about two thirds of the day as police probed a plot to harass and terrorize a local man with explosive devices.

DeMarco logged a total of 324.5 hours of overtime over three pay periods between April 5 and May 3, earning $19,617 in overtime, or more than double his base pay. When coupled with accrued vacation and sick time he cashed in last year, the money was enough to make DeMarco Rotterdam’s top earner in 2012 — even though he stopped collecting a paycheck from the town after retiring in September.

In all, DeMarco collected $167,965 in 2012, essentially double his base salary of $84,037. And he wasn’t alone among town police bringing in six-figure salaries last year.

As usual, all 10 of Rotterdam’s top earners came from the Police Department. The 2012 salaries of the top 10 ranged from more than $107,000 to DeMarco’s nearly $168,000.

Deputy Chief William Manikas blamed part of the inflated salaries on the overtime some senior officers put toward a monthlong investigation into a series of attacks on an East Claremont Avenue home between March and April. DeMarco, for instance, was working 16-hour shifts each day for much of the probe.

DeMarco logged more overtime than even the lieutenant heading the investigation. Lt. Michael Brown accrued 191 hours of overtime for $13,217 during the same pay periods.

“[DeMarco] basically worked 16 hours on and eight hours off for almost five consecutive weeks during a sensitive investigation requiring that kind of commitment from him as well as others,” Manikas said Monday.

The investigation that led to the arrest of Larry Ahrens, 33, and three alleged accomplices, came at an overtime price tag of $72,000. Cracking the case relied on a minimum of five detectives working around the clock for more than a month, eating up roughly a third of the department’s overtime budget.

Town Supervisor Harry Buffardi, formerly Schenectady County sheriff, said the department ultimately covered the 2012 overage within its own budget. He also credited the department with seeking outside help from the state and federal authorities to help curb overtime costs.

“We had a bombing in the town of Rotterdam,” he said. “This is not something we’re going to walk away from.”

Police believe Ahrens masterminded a series of attacks on the home aimed at terrorizing its owner — a man in his 40s who had been dating his ex-girlfriend. Over the course of a month, he allegedly hired a trio of individuals to either vandalize the home or detonate small explosive devices around it.

Manikas said the long hours DeMarco was working became a concern of the department early on — that mental fatigue could settle in with him logging more than 100 hours in a week. He said the department brass kept close watch on him to ensure that he wasn’t having problems contending with the grueling schedule of starting work at 8 a.m. and continuing until midnight.

“At no time did we feel he was endangering himself or the public and it was closely monitored,” he said.

Manikas declined to discuss what DeMarco’s detail was during the case, citing its ongoing nature. Ahrens remains in custody awaiting trial on arson charges.

Others among the top earners racked up significant overtime after the East Claremont Avenue investigation had completed. Sgt. Robert Denny, who was averaging about 10 hours of overtime per week during his first 10 pay periods of 2012, saw this figure more than double to about 21 hours per week during the next 10 pay periods — May 31 and Oct. 4.

Denny was the second highest-paid town employee in 2012, with a gross salary of $146,260. His base salary was $89,263.

In all, Rotterdam police earned $338,000 in overtime last year, far exceeding their budgeted amount of $265,000. Town officials boosted the allotted amount for police overtime to $300,000 in the 2013 spending plan.

But while overtime contributed to the higher salaries, Manikas did not fault it entirely. For instance, both DeMarco and Sgt. Michael Grant had inflated earnings because they cashed in unused vacation and sick pay.

Grant, who earned a base salary of $90,505, grossed $115,037 last year despite retiring in April. He worked no overtime, meaning the lion’s share of his salary was accrued vacation and sick pay.

Grant’s retirement after 28 years on the force will actually entitle him to a pension that will exceed what he was making in base salary. In retirement, he’ll earn $8,302 per month or $99,624 annually, according to figures provided by the state Comptroller’s Office; figures had not yet been computed for DeMarco, who retired after 22 years on the force.

Pensions are based on the average salary a worker earns during the last three years of employment. Buffardi said the town can do little to manage these costs, which are among those that inflate the budget almost every year.

“Clearly, there’s entitlements we’re not in control of,” Buffardi said. “The system allows it to happen.”

In addition to vacation and sick time, Rotterdam police can also collect up to 480 hours of compensatory time. Buffardi said the town is trying to win some concessions as they negotiate with the police, which had their contract expire two years ago.

“We’re aware of that and we’re trying to set some limits on that,” he said.

 
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