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Commissioners spar over EMS, budget

Dallke suggests Novak causes emergency staff to start looking for new jobs

News editor

Monday’s commission meeting was over, save for final optional comments from commissioners. What ensued was nearly 30 minutes of often-contentious talk about ambulance service overtime and further budget cuts.

It soon became clear that an initially ambiguous comment by commission chairman Randy Dallke was targeted at how commissioner Dianne Novak was supposedly communicating with ambulance personnel about cuts in proposed overtime pay.

“Our employees are good people, and if we upset them when we don’t have a vote to cut wages or anything like that, we’re just creating our own problems,” Dallke said. “I really don’t think it’s my job or any commissioner’s job until there’s a vote of the commission to go that way. I would just like to see some of that stop so that these people know that we’re positive, that we’re going forward with their jobs.”

Novak responded.

“There was no vote by the board?” she said. “We voted on those cuts on the budget.”

Dallke replied.

“No, no, they’re talking about their personal jobs, they’re talking about losing their overtime, they’re talking about that, and we’ve made no decisions to do that,” he said. “That’s what they’re upset about. We don’t tell our people that’s what we’re going to do unless it’s done by the commission.

“They’re out looking for jobs already, and that’s sad.”

Novak said one employee had called her and didn’t say anything about looking for another job.

“But that’s what’s happening,” Dallke said.

Novak took issue with hiring paramedics and emergency medical technicians at a base salary but guaranteeing overtime to inflate their wages.

“To the commission, we’re being told they’re being hired at $15.50 an hour, $14.50 an hour, whatever it is,” she said, “but the employee is told that by the end of the year you’re going to make $53,00, $48,000. The numbers don’t match.”

“He (EMS director Ed Debesis) told them right up front the schedule they’d be working with overtime,” Dallke said.

“He did tell them that, but he didn’t tell us that,” Novak said.

“Yes, he has,” Dallke replied.

“No, he hasn’t,” Novak said.

Dallke returned to his initial point.

“We’ve got to pull together here as a group to assess policies, and this is already done,” he said. “I’m just not following somebody going out and calling and telling people we’re going to cut your overtime.”

Novak countered.

“I never did that, and if that’s what you’re insinuating, you’re wrong,” she said.

But Dallke stood by his assertion.

“Well, that’s what they’re telling me,” he said.

Commissioner Kent Becker said he had received feedback similar to Dallke’s.

“There must have been a couple of them that took it that way because I got two calls the same way and they said they’ve been told that,” he said.

They could have gotten that information from materials the commission had, or from a newspaper article about ambulance service pay, Novak said.

Dallke said he has received comments of support for changes with EMS, and none about increased costs.

“I’ve never heard a taxpayer say, ‘Cut the ambulance people down, they’re making too much money,’” he said. “I’m just saying the public is not saying this. It’s coming from right here.”

Becker agreed.

“I met with a group of senior citizens last week and over and over they said, ‘EMS is so much better than it was five years ago. Please continue to improve on it. Whatever that dollar is, we want to do that because it’s that important to us,’” he said.

Novak countered that cutting the initial $1.6 million budget request submitted by Debesis by $361,000, which commissioners agreed to, was financially responsible, and that Debesis didn’t have to take the cuts out of overtime pay.

“Debesis can use his money any way he wants,” she said. “He can cut it out of someplace else. I’m saying be financially responsible. I don’t think we should let departments just run amok. Mr Debesis needs to make it work. He’s got still a huge budget, a $1.3 million budget, now he needs to make that work and keep his employees happy and do what he needs to do. Maybe not buy all new modern equipment or whatever, but as a supervisor he needs to make it work.”

Cutting back on proposed hires would be another way to preserve overtime, Novak said.

“He has all kinds of wiggle room in there, if he can manage, that wouldn’t hurt him in the least as far as employees is concerned,” she said.

Budget review

With a hearing looming Monday on the 2018 budget, Novak made a plea to have one more meeting to find cuts to eliminate a proposed 1.5 mill increase.

She bolstered her request with spreadsheets she complied from state and county sources. Among 13 counties of comparable size, Marion County had the second-highest property tax levy.

“We’re so much higher in tax levy,” she said. “If I were a business wanting to expand into another county, I would think Marion would be one of the last ones I’d consider.”

One more review could come up with cuts to hold the line on the tax levy, Novak said.

“We’re so close to where we could hold it at least flat,” she said.

Her counterparts disagreed with having another review.

“I’m OK with the budget the way it is,” Dallke said.

Becker suggested they had done enough.

“We’ve been massaging it and massaging it, and about the only thing we’re raising is EMS, and otherwise it’s pretty much flat,” he said.

Novak noted numerous departments had increased their budgets in recent years. At the end of the meeting, she tried one more time.

“I guess the budget stays the way it is?” she said.

Dallke’s response put the issue to rest.

“I make a motion to adjourn,” he said.

Last modified Aug. 19, 2017

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