Mayor Orders Forensic Audit of Fire Leave Usage

Brian Coddington, Communications Director, 509.625.6740

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 at 1:39 p.m.

Mayor Nadine Woodward has ordered a comprehensive review of leave usage in the Spokane Fire Department, including the initiation of a forensic audit, after a three-month spike in sick time taken leading up to the state vaccine mandate deadline.

The City Council is expected to consider on Monday an additional $5 million budget authorization to cover Spokane Fire Department operating costs through the end of the year. The amount would cover the projected overage, which is based on the year-to-date run rate and historical data for the final three reporting periods.

“We are still evaluating the circumstance, but what we have learned so far led us to take immediate action to gain deeper knowledge and understanding of the circumstances that created this situation, contain expenditures, and prevent future overages,” Woodward said.

The Administration remains committed to maintaining the current level of public safety resources and staffing. The additional budget authorization would be covered by the Contingency Reserve.

Woodward has directed the finance team to initiate a third-party forensic audit of leave practices and uses and the resulting impacts to staffing and overtime. The audit is expected to take several weeks to complete once initiated.

Here’s what is known so far:

  • The scale of the projected overage was identified during routine year-end preparations
  • Closer examination of sick time usage showed a spike in August, September, and October that doubled the number of days taken in any given month even during the early months of the pandemic and continued an upward trend that began in April
  • The monthly uniform overtime run rate increased from $232,000 per pay period during the two years prior to the pandemic to $576,000 per pay period during the pandemic through October

At Woodward’s direction, immediate action has been taken to:

  • Initiate a comprehensive internal review of the situation
  • Review current leave practices and leverage any cost-saving changes that may not be covered in the collective bargaining agreement
  • Suspend all non-essential expenses

Additional actions already planned or in progress include:

  • Initiating an overtime study, which was already planned in December
  • Scheduling a fire academy in February to hire 20 firefighters
  • Continuing to monitor pandemic-related overtime costs
  • Studying non-pandemic impacts to sick leave usage
  • Improving tools to monitor budget and spending organization-wide
  • Enhancing analytic skillset for the organization

Information from both the third-party forensic audit and internal reviews will be used to inform future labor contract negotiations, budgeting, and spending.