Fire Chief Mike Morgan said he plans to control his department's overtime, but some council members aren't waiting.
"That's been high for years. I don't know, is that a management issue?" Councilwoman Leslie Daigle asked Morgan at a study session last week.
Councilman Keith Curry has requested a review of all departments' overtime policies.
"We need to revisit our staff plans and our standard operating procedures to be sure we are being the most efficient," Curry said Thursday.
Morgan said that two types of situations generate firefighter and paramedics' overtime: when someone takes a day off and when the department has a vacancy.
Most fire departments are required to keep their stations staffed with a minimum number of firefighters and paramedics at all times; Newport's number is 39 at its eight stations.
While the employees sometimes trade their days off, they aren't required to.
This leaves the city paying time-and-a-half, the standard overtime rate.
One fire captain, for instance, made $156,000 in regular hours and $44,000 in overtime during fiscal 2009-10.
Paying overtime to cover days off is common practice, said Demetrious Shaffer, president-elect of the California Fire Chiefs Assn.
"Most people don't understand why we pay overtime," Shaffer said. "You can't just not have firefighters on duty, and expect to call 911 and get firefighters to respond to your call."
In the case of vacancies, Newport has recently paid workers overtime instead of hiring after someone retires or otherwise leaves the department.
Officials defended this practice in the past, saying that it is less expensive to use overtime than to hire another firefighter with a full pension. But Morgan, who moved into the chief's role in November, doesn't agree.
"My position has always been to fill those vacancies as quickly as possible," he said this week.