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Updated after deadline

Commissioners trim tax increase for ambulance

Staff writer

After county commissioner Dianne Novak called a special budget meeting to discuss trimming EMT overtime, commissioners voted to decrease their proposed 2018 budget increase of two mills to one and a half mills.

With this decrease, about $165,000 less will be added to the ambulance personnel budget, which includes roughly $247,650 in overtime pay for full-time EMTs and paramedics.

“Not one of us is happy with overtime,” said Randy Dallke, commission chairman, who was prepared to stay with the two mill increase and continue to look at EMT scheduling for the next year’s budget. “It’s money that’s not productive.”

The commissioners approved the lower increase on a 3-0 vote despite concern from Dallke and commissioner Kent Becker.

The half mill decrease was not quite as big of a cut as Novak hoped to see when she called the meeting.

“I would even be happy cutting down another mill,” Novak said. “I’m just looking at cutting out what I consider to be waste. I’m not cutting service, and I don’t want you to confuse that.”

She said she would get over what she considers a waste in overtime spending but hopes to see improvements in EMT scheduling next year.

“It’s better than what it was, but it’s not what I hoped for,” she said.

Earlier story

County commissioners voted Monday to propose increasing taxes by two mills to pay for an increased ambulance staff, but commissioner Dianne Novak had a change of heart Tuesday and called a special budget meeting to discuss trimming EMT overtime.

If the proposed 2018 budget remains as commissioners set it on Monday, the average homeowner in Marion County can expect to pay $35 to $40 more in taxes to help fund the county ambulances.

Roughly $247,560 would be spent on overtime for full-time EMTs and paramedics hired after a shortage of volunteers who previously staffed county ambulances. That amount is almost exactly how much taxes overall would increase.

Novak said Monday that she was “about ready to give up,” and pass the budget proposal without changes, instead working with emergency medical services director Ed Debesis on better scheduling and wages.

“I’m not saying get rid of overtime pay completely,” she said. “We could fill that in with part-time people to reduce a little bit of everything. It all comes down to scheduling.”

The county’s 2018 budget includes $555,663 for base pay for full-time EMTs, $156,000 for volunteer EMTs and $59,000 for part-time EMTs.

The county operates two full-time ambulance crews 24/7. With a total of six crews working rotating shifts, that means about 30 percent of any EMT’s hours will be overtime at time-and-a-half pay.

“They are getting paid overtime to sleep in some cases,” Novak said. “This is such a big issue to me.”

EMTs work 24 hours on and 48 hours off.

The lowest-paid EMT in the county makes about $41,000 with overtime, even though base pay is only $25,000.

Debasis said two ambulances were needed on call 24/7.

“When someone needs an ambulance, we’ve got to be ready to go,” he said.

Unlike law enforcement officers and firefighters, EMTs working long shifts qualify for overtime under federal law after 40 hours in any given week. Others receive overtime for working more than that ratio of off work to off time hours in a multi-week period.

“I don’t like overtime,” Novak said. “With the same dollars, we should be having more personnel. We are paying all this money in wages, and we are still saying we are short.”

Commission chairman Randy Dallke said overtime pay helped attract and retain EMTs.

“The problem I see is if we’re going to cut the pay, if we cut their overtime, they’ll leave,” Dallke said. “To get them to come here, you have to provide something.”

Novak said if EMTs were relying on overtime the commission needed to look at increasing their hourly wage.

“But I don’t think those wages are too out of line,” she said.

County clerk Tina Spencer said reducing overtime by adding two EMTs would be more expensive because of the insurance and benefits for the additional employees.

“I hate overtime also,” Spencer said. “I have looked at this because I hate that. I don’t like to see that overtime. It goes against everything I am as an HR person. But I just don’t see a better way to do it that’s going to save very much money, if any.”

The commissioners will meet at 3 p.m. today to discuss other overtime options.

The county’s overall budget, which will be subject to a public hearing later this month, may actually underestimate the total cost of the newly enlarged ambulance service because some expenses will be paid out of other funds than the county’s EMS fund.

The proposed budget also includes $97,500 for a new county administrator — a position that would have to be approved by voters.

Are two ambulances needed 24/7?

Emergency medical services director Ed Debesis says Marion County needs two ambulances on call 24/7.

“When someone needs an ambulance, we’ve got to be ready to go,” he said Monday.

However, a check of ambulance dispatches over the past three months indicates that overnight staffing by two ambulances might not be necessary.

Only once in 92 days have two ambulances been called out between midnight and 6 a.m. on the same day, and in that case, only one of the ambulances actually transported a patient.

According to analysis of ambulance dispatches since May 1, Marion County ambulances have, between midnight and 6 a.m.:

  • responded to an average of only one call every 4.38 days.
  • actually transported patients only once every 7.08 days.
  • transported patients who weren’t already in a medical facility only once every 23 days.

More than one out of every three patients transported during these times were transported not by full-time crews in Marion and Hillsboro but by volunteer ambulance crews in Peabody or Florence.

Last modified Aug. 6, 2017

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