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Crawford County commissioners Daniel Crecelius and Randy Gilmore, front left and right, respectively, along with Emergency Medical Services Director Debbie Wiseman, left, and other emergency medical technicians, listen to the discussion about the EMS’s overtime pay during the county council’s meeting Monday, Jan. 3. Also present was Jim Schultz, president of the board of commissioners. Photo by Chris Adams

Committee to study EMS

January 12, 2011
A committee that was established to review Crawford County's courthouse finances in 2008 will be reconvened to take a look at the county's Emergency Medical Services.

The county council in December set things in motion when, after receiving a request for an additional appropriation of $25,000 for overtime and holiday pay at the EMS that had accumulated over a period of time, it voted to no longer fund overtime requests after Jan. 2.

After discussing the matter at its Dec. 30 meeting, the county board of commissioners decided to have its annual reorganization meeting Monday, Jan. 3, just before the council's, so it could get that board's input.

Neither body had an answer to an issue that has come up several times during the years. Acting on the original committee's recommendation, the commissioners abolished compensatory time at the EMS, which had allowed emergency medical technicians to take off 1-1/2 hours for every hour of overtime in lieu of receiving time-and-a-half pay, because it presented its own set of headaches. Per federal law, employees can bank up to 480 hours, and this created scheduling difficulties when those comp hours were taken. In addition, when an EMT left the ambulance service, they were paid for unused comp time, causing the county an unexpected large expense.

However, scheduling has remained a problem, as finding enough part-time EMTs to work has been a challenge, EMS Director Debbie Wiseman told the commissioners at their Dec. 30 meeting.

On Monday, Daniel Crecelius, in his first meeting as the District 1 commissioner since being elected in November, made a motion to reconvene the 2008 group so that the commissioners can have as much information as possible before deciding what action to take.

"My suggestion would be to put a committee together to review, to get both sides and have a fact-finding study group, something similar to the review committee we did on the courthouse back a few years ago," he said.

Following a 3-0 vote in favor of re-establishing the committee, District 3 Commissioner Jim Schultz, who earlier in the meeting was selected by his fellow two commissioners to serve as the board's president, said a workable solution has to be found.

"It has to be worked, and there has to be compensation in some way," he said of the hours. "It either has to be overtime or comp time."

Nick Clutinger, a former EMT and whose wife, Wanda, still works for the service, suggested having a representative from another ambulance service on the committee, someone who could provide insight on how ambulance services operate.

"You're going to find out there's a whole lot of overtime there" at other ambulance services, he said.

Former Crawford County EMT Aaron Bye who now works for Harrison County Hospital echoed Clutinger.

"Just this past week, with people being off sick and holidays, I've got over 40 hours in overtime at Harrison County," he told the commissioners.

Other EMTs in attendance said overtime has increased in part because of changes instituted by the commissioners, including those to the sleep schedule. Another reason for the increase is the way on-call works, added another EMT.

About an hour into their meeting, the commissioners recessed so the council could conduct its meeting. Following several other items, the council turned its attention to the county's EMS when Schultz inquired about the Jan. 2 cutoff for overtime.

"We have to address that in some way," he said.

Schultz told the council about the commissioners' vote to reconvene the 2008 committee, but said the full-time EMTs will have to continue to be compensated — either by overtime pay or comp time — until the committee presents a recommendation.

Jerry Brewer, who was reappointed president of the council earlier in its meeting, explained the council's vote against additional overtime was an attempt at getting a different system in place that keeps costs down without adversely affecting the quality of the service or the EMTs.

"The $25,000 (additional appropriation) request for the overtime was just kind of a shock," he said.

Wiseman, who attended both meetings Jan. 3, said the $25,000 was for overtime worked for a large portion of the year. Auditor Ricki Hawkins said the EMS's overtime pay for all of 2010 totaled about $53,000.

In favor of the committee, some members of the council, including Brewer and William Breeding, said they favored giving comp time to EMTs while the committee does its work, but Brewer said that if the commissioners chose to pay overtime instead, the council would support them.

Reconvening their meeting after the council adjourned, the commissioners voted 3-0 to continue paying overtime, instead of allowing comp time, until the committee makes its recommendations. Crecelius, in making the motion, explained doing so will save possible confusion.

Next, the commissioners officially appointed the members of the committee. The 2008 committee was comprised of then-Commissioner Larry Bye, Councilman Joey Robinson, Milltown resident Bill Byrd, Circuit Judge Lynn Lopp and Crecelius, who was a councilman at the time. Robinson declined to serve again, as did Lopp, who, when contacted at home by Hawkins, indicated he was unsure if he could since only one entity would be under review.

With Bye no longer a commissioner, only Crecelius, who will now represent the commissioners instead of the council, and Byrd were reappointed to the committee.

Others to serve include Councilmen Doug McLain and Steve Bartels and EMTs Kyle Wiseman and Francis Onstott.

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