10/03/12 — EMS payroll error concern goes on

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EMS payroll error concern goes on

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 3, 2012 1:46 PM

Wayne County Emergency Medical Services employees Tuesday morning warned county commissioners that ongoing problems with a new payroll system that overpays some and underpays others have reached a "critical" stage and are affecting customer service, public safety, other departments and citizens, as well as outside funding and grants.

Commission Chairman John Bell had his own view of the continuing protests over the pay system -- someone other than EMS employees is fueling the continuing uproar.

Speaking for a group of some 30 fellow EMS employees, Donna Santifort said other employees had wanted to attend, but were either working or "afraid." Ms. Santifort also spoke for the EMS employees at commissioners' meeting two weeks ago about the same concerns.

"Some Wayne County EMS employees that were scheduled to work overtime are refusing to come in, not in revolt, but because they feel that there will be no pay for that overtime," she said. "At this point, they are probably correct, and some part-time people will not come in when called because now they are taking retirement out on them. And we have employees that are seeking other employment."

She submitted a two-page statement with 15 points concerning the new payroll system including asking that payroll be removed from human resources.

Human resources is "unapproachable" by EMS, she said. Ms. Santifort did not elaborate.

At the board's meeting two weeks ago, County Manager Lee Smith said payroll had been in human resources and never in finance.

Some EMS employees said they commuted an hour or longer to work in Wayne County and problems with payroll are creating financial hardships for them and their families.

"That thing that bothers me, I have had a lot of calls since the last meeting," Bell said. "We have people in this county who are driving this train unnecessarily."

Commissioner Steve Keen asked Bell who he was talking about.

"At the appropriate time I will tell you," Bell said. "But now is not the appropriate time, but you have people who are trying to create a mountain out of a mole hill.

"Don't get me wrong now, payroll is a mountain, anytime you are not getting paid you have a mountain. But we don't need people, especially people on this board to interject themselves into the payroll system, and not know how to give the proper answers to the people they are talking with."

County Manager Lee Smith needs time to work through the questions raised by Ms. Santifort, Bell said

"We are going to have to trust our county manager to get this thing right," he said. "If we don't trust our county manager to get it right, who up here is going to be able to get it right?"

Bell said he tries to tell callers with whom they need to talk to make sure they get the proper pay and the proper answers they need. Calling commissioners about payroll is a waste of time since they really aren't knowledgeable about the payroll system, he said.

Keen and Commissioner Ray Mayo were quick to dispute that.

"I just don't think that we should inject ourselves into the payroll system until we know what we are talking about," Bell said.

Keen made a motion to hold a work session on the payroll system with Smith and his staff. Keen said he now had the information and wanted to get it to Smith, whom he said carries out policy and works at the pleasure of commissioners.

The motion passed 6-1. Bell voted no. Commissioner J.D. Evans did not vote and in accordance with board policy was counted as a yes.

Commissioner Sandra McCullen suggested that if the issue was so critical that the board should have the workshop Tuesday afternoon. The board briefly recessed to consider dates. However, after returning to regular session no date was set, and Bell said board members would be notified as to when the meeting would be held.

Keen told Bell that the purpose of the work session was to do what (Bell) was talking about.

"I am concerned about if you think some of the commissioners are interjecting themselves into something they don't know what they are talking about," Keen said. "I am sort of appalled by that. I know what I am talking about, and it is factual. I have the figures and I have the emails and now I have all of this other to process.

"As a commissioner I am trying to get to the bottom, to find a solution not only all of these people in this department, but if there are other departments that have the same issue. We want them to come to the same table under the direction of our county manager to have all of this worked out in the next seven to 10 days."

Bell told Ms. Santifort that the board would be glad to respond to her concerns in writing.

Bell asked who in the audience were EMS supervisors.

"Why don't the supervisors get together with Mr. Smith and human resources?" Bell said. "I am sort of used to having supervisors involved. I am just looking at it from the standpoint of certain protocols. You bypass your supervisor and come straight to us. We seem to be leaving them out."

However, the workers said that had gone through the chain of command before coming to commissioners with their concerns.

"I don't think the problem is with supervisors," Mayo said. "I think what the overall feeling is that why is it taking so long in order to correct people's checks. It seems like in some cases there may not be a priority put on certain issues employees have as far as their pay is concerned."

Mayo said he is hearing that employees have gone to human resources, but that no action had been taken.

Smith said the Office of Emergency Services had sent the necessary files Monday afternoon to correct the payroll problems.

"The hours have to be verified," he said.

Mrs. McCullen said that when commissioners first started hearing about the problem that Smith sent emails to all county employees asking them to let him know about any payroll issues.

"I don't think people felt comfortable doing that ,and I think that is why we are still hearing comments," she said.

Commissioner Bud Gray said the employees feel too intimidated to respond.

But if they want their pay right, they needed to respond, Mrs. McCullen said.