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Federal wage hike means more pay for EMS crew

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

The Trimble Banner

To comply with the federal government’s mandate to raise the minimum hourly wage to $7.25,  Trimble County Fiscal Court voted in raises to employees in the county ambulance service – all of whom are paid by the hour.

The law became effective July 1, and Judge-Executive Randy Stevens said the court had to address the issue now, as next pay period will be the first to fall under the new pay rules.

Stevens told the magistrates that of the six ambulance service employees, four earn $7.24 per hour and would require a one-cent-per-hour increase; one employee is earning $6.97 per hour, and would require a 28-cent increase; and the lowest-paid employee earns $6.76 per hour and would require a 49-cent boost to be compliant.

The discrepancies in pay, he said, mostly are attributed to length of employment, Stevens said.

But rather than bring all six employees up to the $7.25 mark, Stevens suggested to the court that the county raise all six salaries by 49 cents an hour – the amount needed to bring the lowest-paid employee’s pay into compliance with the new law.

Stevens said he didn’t believe it would be fair for the employees with less  experience and less time on the job to receive the same amount of pay as employees who have been with the ambulance service longer.

“These jobs are unlike any other job. They require very special training,” Stevens said. Members of the EMS squad work one 24-hour shift at a time, with the following 48 hours off. Therefore, if they work just two shifts, they have put in 40 hours of regular time and eight hours of overtime, he explained.

Stevens said the county’s EMS has the highest turnover rate of any county department, and he doesn’t want to risk losing long-term EMS employees over the changes in the pay rates.

He also acknowledged that the measure goes against the court’s decision to forego raises to all county employees in the 2009-10 fiscal year because of the economy. The county lost about $230,000 last year in revenue when a hauler contract with the Valley View Landfill expired.

Stevens said he is hopeful that a new contract a Cincinnati-area waste hauler will restore most of that loss and enable the court to give raises to the other county employees later this year – possibly in December.

 Magistrate David Scott asked if the ambulance crew could be switched from hourly to salaried employees.

Stevens said such a move would complicate scheduling for the EMS crew because each employee would earn 1.5 hours of compensation time for ever one hour of overtime. He said comp time ultimately would generate more overtime than what the employees put in now.

Scott then asked if the county could seek an exemption for the EMS employees from the federal government.

“I never thought about that,” Stevens said, adding that he would find out if such an exemption exists.

In the meantime, however, he asked the court to approve 49-cent-per-hour raises for all six EMS employees. The raises will add about $9,600 to the county budget, but Stevens said he would amend expenses to cover the additional cost.

Stevens acknowleged concern about all the other county employees who did not receive raises this year because of the economy.

“If we do this, come December we’ll see if we are able to adjust (wages) for all other county employees,” he said.

Stevens announced last month that the county is expecting a boost in revenue from the landfill from a new contract with a Cincinnati-area waste hauler.

The court approved the 49-cent raise for the entire department by a 3-0 vote. Magistrate Kirby Melvin was on vacation and unable to attend Monday’s meeting.

Magistrate Nolan Hamilton said he favored giving the larger raise to avoid hard feelings among the ambulance crew members.

“I’m a person [who likes] to keep my employees,” Hamilton said.

County attorney Perry Arnold said the move will set the annual salary for a Level 1 EMT at about $24,000.

“They still won’t be overpaid, but hopefully we won’t be overextended,” Stevens said.