When talking about the issue of employee pay raises for 911 dispatchers and Whitley County EMS workers last month, Whitley County Fiscal Court members encouraged the employees to have patience as they examined the issue.
The employees, who are asking for pay raises to bring their salary levels up to those in surrounding counties, were asked to have a little more patience Tuesday.
“We want to keep the employees that we have, and we want to be able to work something out in the future each year where you can look forward to getting something without coming back every year, and without going through this again. I hope you can understand, and give us a little more time on this,” said Magistrate Johnny Lawson.
“I think you do a great job, and you have a very dangerous job. I would love to give you all raises of $5 per hour. I think you deserve it as much as anybody does. I recommend you all as high as I can. It takes a little time for us to see how much money we can give you all.”
Fiscal court members asked emergency workers to give them until mid-January to make a decision on making the pay raises.
Whitley County Judge-Executive Mike Patrick said that by then, much of the property tax revenue will be in, and the county will have a better idea of how much money it will have to work with for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Magistrate Nolan Bird assured workers that the issue isn’t going to be something “swept under the table.”
“It’s not a put off,” Bird said. “I think we need to bring them up to what their pay scale should be, and reward them to be with us a long time so we don’t lose them. My vote will be to bring you up to a reasonable salary.”
Whitley County EMS Director Kelli Harrison said employees would be agreeable to giving magistrates more time to look at the issue.
Various employees said they are willing to work with the fiscal court on the time frame, but that they need help.
Shelia Norman, a 911 and ems employee, noted that she has to work two jobs to support her family.
“We are not really meaning anything harsh to you guys. I respect what you all have asked for,” Norman said. “In this I would like you all to think of the fact that our money hasn’t expanded any, but a gallon a milk has gone up to $4 a gallon.
“It is hard to buy groceries. I have worked for the county for eight years, and I have worked two jobs for eight of them. I shouldn’t have to work 80 hours a week to provide for my family.”
Paramedic Tim Gibbs noted that paramedics have to go to college in order to do their jobs, but that they are severely underpaid.
“What we have to face out there in the field is the same thing as police officers have to face. We could be shot and killed,” Gibbs noted. “We want to be paid for our duties. We want to be paid for our services. Our employees are very upset. The simple fact is they go home, and their paycheck doesn’t pay their electric bill. It doesn’t pay their groceries.
“They have to lower their standard of living. They are working very hard. The employees are giving you our all. The only thing we are asking is for the court to give us their all.”
EMS Capt. Shawn Jackson added that pay raises would benefit the citizens because it would enable Whitley County to attract more-qualified workers.
Bird was one magistrate that went on record Tuesday that he would vote for a pay raise.
Just how much of a pay raise employees will get remains to be seen.
Patrick said the initial report by the workers recommended 15 percent raises to bring their salary up to the level of surrounding counties. Patrick said he doesn’t feel that is realistic right now.
“I don’t say that some adjustments could not be done. The initial numbers of 15 percent would increase the expenses some $80,000 at the ambulance service and some $30,000 at 911. It might be a goal for the future, but I wouldn’t expect the committee to come back and say that is their recommendation to the court. I do expect them to make a recommendation,” Patrick said.
Will the county make the eventual goal of getting Whitley County salaries on par with those in the surrounding counties?
“I think the securing and maintaining of qualified employees basically in a lot of ways places that sort of requirement that you have to be competitive, and at least have your people knowing that you are working towards that goal even if you don’t exactly accomplish it with every move that you make,” Patrick said.
“We can’t provide services without people. You have to take a look at what you have to do to do that. I’m hoping that everyone will be realistic at what we can accomplish at particular points and time. They may make a recommendation with a short term and long term effect. I think we need to leave that open for this group to work on and develop.”
On Tuesday, Patrick initially proposed expanding the committee considering employee raises to include a representative from the road department and the jail and for the committee to look at a comprehensive plan for compensation of all employees.
Patrick said he would like to determine if a system can be worked out to set raises for all employees, but he later withdrew his request to expand the committee after ems workers noted they have already waited a significant amount of time to hear about their pay request.
The fiscal court also approved a hiring freeze for all employees and a freeze on employee pay raises until the fiscal court has time to look at the issue of employee raises.
Patrick said the freeze is needed so fiscal court members won’t be trying to hit a “moving target” as they discuss possible pay raises.
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