EDITOR’S NOTE: Sixteen tornadoes smashed through our community on Memorial Day 2019. Since that day, the Dayton Daily News has been on the ground reporting on the devastation and the work of recovery. Now, one year later, we are digging into the obstacles that remain, how the coronavirus pandemic has affected rebuilding and how communities have been changed forever. Go here for more of this coverage.
The Memorial Day tornadoes that ripped through the Miami Valley a year ago forced area governments to spend more than $4 million on overtime pay and caused many cities to push back projects indefinitely, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.
The Ohio Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have or will reimburse communities about 90% of what they spent for tornado clean-up, and police and fire department work responding to the storms.
Even with those reimbursements, the Dayton Daily News investigation found the Memorial Day tornadoes forced some communities to push back projects.
In Beavercreek, the storms put the city behind a year on capital projects in 2019. The tornadoes pushed off in-house projects in Harrison Twp. like asphalt repairs and storm tile installation. Riverside had to put off fixing potholes and some other projects during the months that city employees spent cleaning up storm debris.
The Dayton Daily News examined several city and township payrolls in the Miami Valley as part of its annual Payroll Project and found these municipalities spent $4,021,000 on overtime because of the tornadoes.
The newspaper’s Payroll Project seeks to increase transparency by putting together a searchable database of salaries for area counties, cities, townships, public colleges and universities and other governments. You can find the database here.
Overtime for weeks, months
Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck said for the first five days after the tornadoes, many deputies didn’t go home.
“During the tornadoes, that was a different type of overtime,” Streck said. “Everybody pretty much just stays on and when they get tired, they go back to one of our districts and rest. So that obviously takes a toll on you.”
Streck said he himself left his house on the night of the tornadoes and didn’t return home until nearly three and a half days later.
“I had deputies out working and their homes were affected by the tornadoes, their families were affected and — like they swore they would do — they left that to be worked on by their family members while they came to help our community,” Streck said.
Last year the county paid $7.4 million of overtime across all of its departments.
In 2017 and 2018, Montgomery County paid $5.6 million and $5.9 million in overtime respectively.
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office spent $208,927 in overtime pay in 2019, nearly $160,000 of that is from responding to the Memorial Day tornadoes, according to payroll data for the sheriff’s department.
Other overtime costs last year for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s department can be attributed to the Oregon District mass shooting in August and the Ku Klux Klan-affiliated group rally.
“Obviously when you sign up for the job, you know you’ll have to do some of that, but 2019 was just something I think many of us hope is never repeated,” Streck said. “We had the KKK rally, which I had hundreds of deputies at, and then a night later we have the tornadoes, which caused overtime for weeks, even into months for some.”
After the initial response to the tornadoes, the sheriff’s office then had to help direct and protect the thousands of people who wanted to help in the most affected areas of the county. Streck said the next several weekends after the tornadoes had a lot of overtime and were intense.
“I had deputies in 90 degree weather dealing with fights and fender benders in areas of the county for 16 to 20 hours at a time,” Streck said. “But that was a good problem to have because people wanted to get down there to help.”
Some of the tornado-related overtime pay comes from giving aid to Harrison Twp. after the tornadoes, the data shows. Streck said the sheriff’s department kept voluntary overtime going months after the tornadoes to protect houses in Harrison Twp.
Overtime doesn’t tell ‘the entire story’
Harrison Twp. spent about $224,000 in storm-related overtime and regular hours for employees in 2019 and $22,000 in 2020, according to payroll data from the township.
The township’s overall overtime costs were minimal, said Harrison Twp. Administrator Kris McClintick, because of mutual aid from surrounding communities.
In 2018, the township spent about $50,000 on overtime and $53,000 in 2019. The township billed about 510 additional overtime hours last year.
“On paper it doesn’t look like much, but that doesn’t tell the entire story,” McClintick said.
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If it weren’t for crews from Washington Twp., Miami Twp, Germantown, Centerville, the Montgomery County Engineer’s Office and the Ohio Department of Transportation helping remove storm debris, the overtime for the township’s streets department would have doubled or tripled, McClintick said.
“I came on the scene right as the sun was coming up that Tuesday morning and you just see the destruction and power lines on the ground, you had to drive over them to get to where you’re going,” McClintick said. “The shock … that’s with you for several days. Then you’re exhausted after a while. We had boots on the ground for 14 to 16 hours a day for the first couple of weeks, but that doesn’t reflect in the overtime because those employees were salaried department directors.”
Trotwood saw a similar, minimal increase in the city’s overtime costs.
According to payroll data, the city paid about $438,000 in overtime last year, but was not able to identify how much of that was tornado-related.
There was an increase in overtime for several days after the tornadoes by Trotwood police and public works. But once the cleanup began, public works had consistent overtime for several months, said Julie Kilbarger, assistant finance director for the city.
Trotwood Mayor Mary McDonald said that because of the thousands of volunteers who came into the city to help clean up, the city’s overtime costs were not greatly affected by the Memorial Day tornadoes.
“Thanks to all those volunteers, we knew we were not alone,” McDonald said. “As we were going through and initially cleaning up, it took a personal emotional toll on all of us. We were all giving all of our hours.”
Dayton saw significant overtime
Overtime pay in the city of Dayton’s general fund was up significantly in 2019 due to the Memorial Day tornadoes and other tragedies that happened. There was a nearly 40% increase from 2018 to last year, from $4.3 million to $6 million.
Total Memorial Day tornado costs, including regular wages, overtime, contract costs and damages to facilities was $4.2 million with $1.3 million coming from the water fund, the city said. According to Ohio EMA data, the Ohio EMA reimbursed about $200,000 worth of the city’s overtime costs, which is about 90% of what the city paid.
“2019 was a challenging year for our organization,” Shelley Dickstein, Dayton city manager, said. “Any one of these crises would be considered a once-in-a-lifetime event by most organizations. The long hours, stress and trauma that accompanied these events has left many workers, like the community, changed. To help employees cope and deal with the stress, we continue to provide access to programming that promotes self-care and allow workers to take time off from the job as needed.”
Dayton expects reimbursement for their overtime costs from FEMA and the state.
City employees did ‘nothing but clean up’
Beavercreek saw a 70% increase in overtime from 2018 to 2019 because of the Memorial Day tornadoes, Beavercreek Finance Director Bill Kucera said.
According to the city’s payroll data, Beavercreek paid about $470,000 in overtime in 2018 and $687,000 in overtime last year.
Beavercreek police saw overtime during the tornadoes and a week or two after, but the public service crews had overtime ongoing for months, said Kucera and City Manager Pete Landrum.
“For those first four or five months after, our public service department did nothing but clean up. They weren’t able to get back to their regular jobs,” Kucera said.
That put the city back almost a year on capital projects, repairs and maintenance, Kucera said.
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“We don’t have an income tax, so fund balances we carry are lower than a city with an income tax,” Kucera said. “It’s a pretty big chunk that came out of our reserves to handle that emergency.”
The service department had help from 34 other communities and entities with debris cleanup. All of those communities donated their time and equipment costs, Landrum said.
Kucera estimated the tornadoes cost the city about $2.2 million worth of damage and labor costs. The reimbursements from the Ohio EMA and FEMA will help the city considerably, Kucera said.
All of the city’s overtime has been submitted to FEMA and awaiting reimbursement at the 75% FEMA and 12.5% state rates, he said.
“We had never been through that and the amount of support we got from all the communities that weren’t affected by the tornado was kind of overwhelming,” Kucera said. “We didn’t know what to do with all those trucks that came bounding in from everywhere else. It was nice. It really helped us speed up the process.”
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In Brookville, the service department worked an additional 291 hours overtime in 2019, most of which can be attributed to clean-up efforts for the Memorial Day tornadoes, said City Manager Sonja Keaton. All of those costs, about $163,000, were reimbursed by FEMA and the Ohio EMA, according to Ohio EMA data.
The Brookville police department worked 219 hours of overtime protecting subdivisions affected by the tornado. Those overtime costs were also reimbursed by FEMA.
“I believe everyone who worked long hours were tired at the time, but felt very proud of all the work that was accomplished in such as short period of time,” Keaton said. “Spirits and morale during the cleanup effort were so great, I’m not sure anyone noticed the long hours.”
Brookville also had a lot of help cleaning up after the tornadoes.
“I trust everyone, from the residents to those who assisted with the cleanup efforts, experienced a physical and mental toll, but everyone kept working on adrenalin,” Keaton said.