03/21/06 — Duplin will eye EMS pay as budget time nears

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Duplin will eye EMS pay as budget time nears

By Turner Walston
Published in News on March 21, 2006 1:45 PM

FAISON -- Duplin County commissioners decided Monday night to postpone a decision about funding for the county Emergency Medical Services until budget discussion begins later this year.

The Board of Commissioners met at the Faison Fire and Rescue Building. More than 100 people attended the meeting.

The county is facing staffing shortages due to surrounding counties' ability to recruit full-time EMS staff away from Duplin, County Manager Fred Eldridge said. In January, commissioners voted to add two paramedic sites to the county system, bringing the total to eight. Eldridge said the county would either need to scale back the number of sites or pay overtime to staff them.

Eldridge recommended the county implement a wage program that would reward paramedics with more than two to five years of experience. He also urged commissioners to consider paying "straight time" for overtime, rather than use the existing "flux" system of compensation. The flux system employs a complex formula to calculate overtime depending on hours worked.

Eldridge said Duplin County's current wage for paramedics, $13.01 an hour, is more than $1.50 lower than the average pay in eight neighboring counties.

Of the 71 emergency services employees in the county, 39 are paramedics, he said. Twenty-eight paramedics would qualify for pay increases under the pay plan suggested by Eldridge.

To help offset the cost, Eldridge proposed the county provide non-emergency and inter-facility transport services.

Some commissioners ex-pressed concern about that proposal's effect on private ambulance carriers Johnston Ambulance Service and Coastline Care.

"Those people employ Duplin County people, too," Commission Chairman Zettie Williams said.

The commissioners and Eldridge debated the recommendations, leaving some board members apparently frustrated.

Commissioner Larry Howard said that when an employee comes up with an idea that would save money, "this board tries every way they possibly can to completely ignore what they said."

"We're not telling them to leave the county, we're just competing," Howard said regarding the private carriers. "It just seems everybody just hates to make a decision."

Commissioner Reginald Wells asked if experienced employees in other offices received the same considerations for increases. Assistant County Manager Judy Brown said nurses were on a similar system.

"I think if we do this, we're going to open Pandora's box," Commissioner David Fussell said.

Eldridge put three recommendations before the board: salary increases for the 28 experienced paramedics, changing the overtime system for all EMS workers and beginning non-emergency transport.

The salary increases were defeated 4-2, with commissioners Arliss Albertson and Howard voting for the measure.

After the vote, Wells moved to postpone decisions on all three recommendations until budget hearings later this year. That motion passed, 5-1, with Howard dissenting.

Eldridge, who announced his resignation early this month, said at the time he would stay on as county manager during budget hearings.

In other business, the commissioners approved a contract to allow a company to build a wireless Internet network in Duplin.

Commissioners approved a contract with InterStar Communications that would provide wireless broadband Internet access across most of the county.

Mike Steed, general manager of InterStar, told commissioners that the company has already installed a network in Sampson County, and installation is under way in Bladen County. InterStar will use Duplin water towers as "hot spots" to provide access.

Steed said InterStar would pursue agreements in municipalities like Faison and Warsaw, which do not have county-maintained water towers, to help "fill in the blocks."

Steed said weather does not affect InterStar's service. "It's very critical that we maintain the uptime," he said.

The cost for citizens to access the network would be $44.95 per month, Steed said, with a $99 installation fee. The small business rate is $54.95 monthly. County employees would pay a reduced rate of $10 to $15.