04/21/13 — commissioners agree to plan for overtime for EMS workers

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commissioners agree to plan for overtime for EMS workers

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 21, 2013 1:50 AM

A change in how Wayne County's emergency personnel are paid will mean about a $360,000 increase in salaries for next year or about a $420,000 hike when benefits are included.

The salaries will include increases of $35,580 for the 911 call center department, $262,580 for EMS and $62,533 for Wayne NET (non-emergency transport).

A caveat, County Manager Lee Smith told county commissioners last week, is that the figures are a prediction based on history.

"If we are required to have more overtime because of additional call volume, the number could go up," Smith said. "So what we are telling you, Wayne NET is somewhat controlled, but what you could say, 'We are going to do X number of calls.'

"911 you can't do that. EMS you can't do that. You are going to roll. You are going to answer calls. We just want to make sure that we understand that. If we say $360,000 for salaries and you had an extra 200 to 300 hours of overtime, this could be more."

Wayne County Offices Emergency Services Director Joe Gurley called the figures, "lean" and with a margin of error that is currently unknown.

It will be a budget that cannot tolerate abuse -- worker's comp, sick time, Gurley told Wayne County commissioners during a workshop last week to look at overtime in his department.

"It will have to be managed very tightly," Smith said.

Shift workers in the Office of Emergency Services are divided into three separate work groups and all are paid according to the rules and regulations of the Fluctuating Work Week (FWW). EMS and Wayne NET employees are scheduled to work a 24-hour shift, while 911 telecommunicators work 12-hour shifts.

Under the plan approved by commissioners, employees are compensated based on a monthly salary for their scheduled shifts, which makes up their annual salary. An hourly rate is derived by dividing that annual salary by 2,088 hours per year.

The remaining, or extra hours over 40, are then paid at straight time which is equal to their regular hourly rate computed from the above formula.

If the employee on either schedule works an additional shift outside the schedule (filling in for a sick coworker), that time is also paid at the regular hourly rate.

This new method exceeds the hourly compensation rate required by the Fair Labor Standards Act for employees working under the Fluctuating Work Week regulations, Smith said.

The previous board last October voted to switch to straight time-and-a-half for overtime. Saying that the vote had been based on incorrect cost information, the new board returned to the old payment method. They said the county could not afford the more than $1 million annually that would be needed to pay time-and-a-half.

However, the board said it would look at options.

Reading from a written motion at the board's Tuesday work session, Commissioner Joe Daughtery said, "I move to continue with the federal fluctuating work week pay plan, but to change the method of overtime pay for EMS and 911 employees to a rate of regular hourly rate for all time worked over 40 hours per week effective May 12, 2013."

Daughtery amended his motion to include Wayne NET after Smith asked for a clarification as to whether it was included.

The motion was unanimously approved.

Commissioner John Bell wanted to know if the change would help Wayne County be more competitive with surrounding counties in hiring EMS staff.

"I wish I could guarantee this would fix it for five years, or seven years, but I can't," Gurley said. "It is going to be an ongoing monitoring. At best, in two years you will have to look at some kind of adjustment."

Just like the shortage years ago of nurses, there is now a shortage of paramedics, he said.

Gurley said he would like to see the county "grow its own," and that the goal is to have two paramedics per truck.

"We definitely need to develop a scholarship program whereby we grow our own," Daughtery said. "A commitment from those individuals, if they want to go into that career field and serve Wayne County, then we would provide assistance.

"We have a great program out at Wayne Community (College). Maybe we could adapt it, but I think that we need to address that shortly."