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HARRISBURG A ,000 paycheck has prompted officials in the capital city to change a long-standing policy that let top-ranking fire officials collect pay at nearly triple their hourly wage.
Former Harrisburg Fire Department Acting Chief Michael Horst said he retired at the end of October to avoid losing post-retirement benefits and eroding his forthcoming payout for unused leave time.
It had nothing to do with the public mention one week prior of more than ,000 in overtime on top of his nearly ,000 regular pay on his second-to-last city paycheck, he said.
City Controller Dan Miller blurted out the astounding figure no names and that he was looking into it during a mayoral debate Oct. 24.
That weekend, city officials confirmed Capt. Brian Etterline would take over for Horst, who was retiring after more than 34 years.
PennLive learned that Horst received the paycheck referenced by Miller, who still hasn't answered questions about the subject.
Documents, provided in response to a Right-to-Know request, show the ,000 included:62 hours of previously unpaid overtime.14, 24-hour days for working as the on-call duty chief at the overtime rateTen eight-hour days as acting chief.The Controller s Office flagged that during their biweekly payroll audit.
But apparently that examination doesn t or didn t, in this case happen in time to stop transfers for direct deposit to city workers bank accounts.
And if it had? Horst says he would have insisted on being paid in full as per city policy and past practices, he said.
"We can t pick and choose which of the (memoranda of understanding) we decide to follow and not follow," Horst said. "Those are the bond between" management and labor.
Since former Mayor Stephen Reed s administration, firefighters would remain in the union while serving as an acting chief or deputy chief.
That means working standard," daytime shifts amounting to 40-hour workweeks in that position. If needed to work on-call at night or over the weekend as the duty chief, they were paid overtime.
Horst said he billed his hours accordingly when he stepped into the acting chief s role after former Fire Chief Robert Talloni left in September.
Once the Controller s Office flagged Horst s paycheck, however, Mayor Linda Thompson s administration said the policy wasn t going to fly much longer, despite at least two firefighters being paid similarly prior to Talloni's arrival three months into Thompson's term.
Horst submitted a retirement letter Oct. 25 one day after Miller's statement at the mayoral primary.
He said Wednesday no one asked him to return the money, and denied being forced out over the matter.
Horst wanted to leave to maintain his benefits. Former Deputy Chief Gary Neff beat him to it, though, and Talloni implored him to stay, he said.
He said he could have retired from the bargaining unit and stayed on as a sworn chief.
He didn't because heading a department where the rank-and-file s pay and benefits had been reduced would have been problematic from a morale standpoint.
I didn t like the way things were going. It doesn t sit well with me, Horst said, referring to the contract concessions being sought to save Harrisburg between .5 million and .8 million per year, short-term, and still more long-term in post-retirement benefit costs.Etterline, a fire captain paid .86 per hour and the new acting fire chief, has since signed an agreement with the city that he won't work on-call or supervisory shifts while working in his new capacity.
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