March 20, 2013Discussion of a topic that appeared settled a month earlier led to the Crawford County Council realizing that the 2013 salary ordinance didn't support action it took in February.
The council, meeting in regular session March 12 at the judicial complex in English, was about finished with its business when member Steve Bartels said he still disagreed with increasing the hourly pay of four full-time emergency medical technicians hired a year ago when the ambulance service added a second 24-hour crew.
"I think we all made a huge mistake by passing that," he said.
The council in February voted 4-3 (Jerry Brewer, Joey Robinson, Jim Taylor and Sharon Wilson for, and Bartels, William Breeding and Doug McLain against) to approve Emergency Medical Services Director John Gott's request to increase the hourly pay of the four EMTs by 50 cents.
The EMTs were hired in at a lesser hourly rate — $9 for those with basic certification and $9.50 for those with advanced certification — than existing EMTs, who earn $11.33 per hour.
Gott, who came into last week's meeting midway through the discussion, said the intent was to create separation based on seniority and certification and to increase the pay of the new EMTs after they had been with the EMS for a year, but Bartels said he remembers it differently. He said those EMTs only were to receive the 50-cent hourly raise if they increased their certification from basic to advanced.
Three of the EMTs have become Advanced EMTs since being hired and already had moved from $9 per hour to $9.50 per hour.
Auditor Ricki Hawkins said the 2013 salary ordinance, which was adopted by the council when it approved this year's budget last fall, states that, upon completion of a satisfactory annual evaluation, the EMTs in question would advance to the next pay level.
"I don't ever remember that being in there," Bartels said. "Does anybody else? Why did we vote for it then?"
Bartels, who took office in January 2011, said that, during his two years on the board, the council "has been unanimous about not giving raises. There's a lot of people in this county who deserve raises."
Brewer, who is the council's president, said he didn't view it as a raise. Instead, he explained, it was an incentive for completing the orientation and remaining with the department for a year, adding the county saved money (about $4,000 per EMT), by starting them at a lower rate.
Councilman Joey Robinson agreed with Brewer that Gott has done a good job since being hired as EMS director two years ago.
Bartels, who last month noted that the second 24-hour crew was to be funded solely within the department's budget and money collected through collections for service and it hasn't been, reiterated that a raise should only be given as a reward for improving qualifications, not simply for being on the job for a year, especially when there are also so many other employees who deserve a pay bump.
"This council made a bad decision. I feel that way," he said. "And I actually will make a motion to re-vote on that."
Bartels' motion never received a second.
As the discussion continued, the council's attorney, Marcus Burgher IV, said there was an issue with the salary ordinance, as it didn't define what the next pay level was that the new EMTs with advanced certification were to go to upon completion of a satisfactory annual evaluation.
"It wasn't clarified because I don't think it was done that way," Bartels said.
Gott said that, while it "may have not been clarified and understood by all," it was discussed. Otherwise, he said, he would have requested that the EMTs be hired in at 50 cents more per hour instead of having them wait until completing the orientation phase of their employment.
The matter became further complicated when Hawkins, whose office handles payroll, said, because of the council's vote in February, the EMTs already have received a check with the pay increase. Doing so inadvertently was in violation of the salary ordinance.
To make the February vote compliant with the salary ordinance, Burgher said, the council would need to amend the salary ordinance retroactive to that pay period. Otherwise, the 50-cent hourly increase would have to be taken away and potentially refunded to the county.
Gott said he would rather pay back that money to the county than to have the EMTs return it. The majority of the council members said, despite their thoughts on whether the 50-cent increase should have been given, the EMTs are not at fault and shouldn't be punished. Only Bartels, when pushed by another council member, said he would be OK having the EMTs repay the money.
The council, therefore, voted 5-1 (Bartels against and Taylor absent) to amend the salary ordinance to increase the hourly pay rate for EMTs hired early last year to $9.50 for those with basic certification and $10 for those with advanced certification. A fifth EMT who was hired last July also will be eligible for the increased pay rate following an annual evaluation.