In a rare split, by a three to two vote Tuesday morning, the Whitley County Fiscal Court approved raising the starting salary for Whitley County EMS and 911 workers to $8.10 an hour.
Magistrates Nolan Bird, Johnny Lawson, and Wayne Wilson voted for the pay increase, which will raise the starting salaries for EMS workers from $6.75 an hour.
The raise will put most EMS and 911 workers making the same amount that their counterparts are in surrounding counties.
Bird, who along with Lawson served on a committee that examined the pay increases this past fall, said he felt the request was reasonable.
“I believe that if we are going to continue to keep the caliber of people that we have, we are going to have to raise the salaries,” Bird noted.
Magistrate Burley Foley and Whitley County Judge-Executive Mike Patrick voted against the pay hike.
Patrick said he didn’t the fiscal court should approve such a pay raise, which will cost about $100,000 more annually, without having a mechanism in place to pay for it.
“I’m not saying the ambulance personnel are not deserving. I don’t know how I can fund it. If we need to look at some sort of tax increase, occupational tax or insurance tax, then we may need to get in pursuit of that. At this time, I don’t know how we will fund this increase if it passes here today,” Patrick told magistrates before they voted.
Patrick said the only way for the county to pay for the raise is to either make other cuts in the ambulance service and 911 budget, cuts to other areas of the county budget at time when the county is cash strapped, or to raise revenues through a tax increase.
“I’m all for an increase in pay, but we can’t pay it if we haven’t got it,” added Foley.
Whitley County EMS Capt. Shawn Jackson, who works two full-time jobs, said the raise is appreciated.
“It will be greatly appreciated by the employees, and help them and their families,” Jackson said adding that he doesn’t know if the raise will enable him to cut back to one full-time job.
Jackson said the raises might sound like a lot, but not when you factor that the 24 EMT’s and nine paramedics went on over 5,000 ambulance runs last year.
In September, EMS and 911 workers asked fiscal court members for a raise. Following a brief executive session, magistrates voted to form a committee composed Whitley EMS Supervisor Kelly Harrison, 911 Supervisor Lisa Baird, Magistrates Nolan Bird and Johnny Lawson, and County Treasure Jeff Gray to compare the rate paid in Whitley County with that paid in surrounding counties.
The following month, fiscal court members took a report under advisement, which calls for a 10 percent raise for part-time EMS and 911 employees, and a 15 percent raise for full-time employees.
The report also asked for a 3 – 5 percent raise annually to cover cost of living expenses.
Harrison told the fiscal court that her employees needed the raises so they don’t have to work three, four, five, or six jobs just to make ends meet.
Following that October meeting Harrison urged her employees not to picket or strike until the fiscal court reached its decision.
During their November meeting, fiscal court members urged emergency workers to give them until mid-January to review the budget, look at property tax revenue, and figure out how much money they had to work with for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
The raise brings the starting pay for EMT’s, emergency medical technicians, equal to that of Whitley County paramedics, who have to undergo much more training, are currently making.
Whitley County EMS Chief Kelly Harrison said a pay raise up to $12 an hour would be necessary to bring paramedics up to the pay levels of their counterparts in surrounding counties.
Magistrates opted against raising the salary for paramedics Tuesday morning after there was some debate on what the raises needed to be.
“Am I pleased with the raise for the EMT’s? Yes, but I would like to see my paramedics get something too,” Harrison said.
Harrison said she doesn’t know what will happen in terms of raises of paramedics, but that she will likely sit down with Patrick to discuss the matters sometime in the not too distant future.
The fiscal court’s decision Tuesday didn’t address annual cost of living increases for emergency workers.
No start date was voted on, but county officials say they assume the raises will be effective immediately.
Bird, who made the motion to grant the raises, said he wasn’t surprised that the fiscal court approved the raises.
Bird said he thinks the county can pay for the raises for EMS and 911 workers without implementing a payroll tax.
“We will just have to see where we can trim and cut that’s all we can do,” he added. “I wouldn’t be right now for any tax increase.”
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