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Valley News Live Investigates Fargo Police Overtime - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Valley News Live Investigates Fargo Police Overtime

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City governments are expected to be good stewards of your tax money. News organizations like Valley News Live are expected to keep them honest.

We wanted to see how the City of Fargo was spending your money when it comes to salaries and overtime, so we did some digging.

First up is the police department.

We investigated and were surprised to find nine officers that earned more than a quarter of a million dollars in overtime over two years. We then went to work to figure out why so many of your tax dollars are going to so few.

Police Chief Keith Ternes said he feels the department is being as effective as possible with overtime dollars. "No question about that, in my opinion" said Ternes. "I have made an incredibly conscious effort since I've been the police chief here in the past seven years to ensure that every single year the police department operates within its budget."

While it is true the police department has operated within its budget for the past couple years, some things stand out about the overtime salaries.

In 2011 and 2012, there were nine people in the department that made a combined $266,000. We asked the chief how he explains this.

"The easiest explanation is if you look at those, if you break it down by year, if you look at 2011 and 2012, the top earners of overtime within the police department are just about the same individuals," he said.

The same individuals were making anywhere from $10,000 in overtime at the low end to $25,000 in overtime in a single year. That seemed a little high. 

Ternes explained, "When you look at that and say how could one police officer, how could nine police officers, how could 10-12 city employees accumulate so much overtime...on the surface you look at that and say something is amiss here."

Here is why:

"I would dare say almost every time that is attributable to officers who are volunteering to work extra hours for events," said Ternes.

Any time there is a Fargodome event, an event at Scheels Arena, a parade or anything that requires traffic control, police need to be present. Ternes said this group of nine officers volunteers for everything.

The whole police department overtime bill does not come back on the city or taxpayers, but a good junk does.

Ternes explained there are reimbursable funds. He said, "We pass on the overtime costs for our staff to police those events to the organizers of the events."

The total expenses for the police department overtime budget in 2012 were about $640,000. When we took out the reimbursable special duty money for events, we were left with $520,000 in overtime made up of city money and grant money from state and federal sources.

The grant money is used for traffic enforcement, DUI saturation patrols and seatbelt enforcement. But, in the end, even if it is grant money, it is your tax dollars.

Ternes stood behind his budget, going back to reimbursable money for events, being able to cover officer vacancies if they are injured on the job or on leave and the fact he has been under budget each year.

"I am not the least bit concerned in terms of how we manage overtime within the department," said Ternes.

Now, it is up for you to decide if the money is being used effectively.

As a side note: In 2012, police officers worked a nine hour day, but Ternes said they were taking extra calls at the end of shifts. That lead to more overtime hours. He said in 2013, officers are working a 10 hour day, and some shift times have changed to cut back on the overtime.

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