EMS eyes a $5,000 bonus for new hires

Recommendation goes to County Commission

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 5/15/19

In an effort to recruit new Emergency Medical Services personnel, the Bradley County Commission's Emergency Services Committee is recommending to offer a $5,000 bonus for new employees. The suggestion arose when discussion of the 2019-20 budget touched on employee turnover and 10 open positions in the county’s ambulance service.

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EMS eyes a $5,000 bonus for new hires

Recommendation goes to County Commission

Posted

In an effort to recruit new Emergency Medical Services personnel, the Bradley County Commission's Emergency Services Committee is recommending to offer a $5,000 bonus for new employees.

The suggestion arose when discussion of the 2019-20 budget touched on employee turnover and 10 open positions in the county’s ambulance service.

Committee Chairman Mike Hughes asked if there are plans to purchase another convalescent transport van. Shawn Fairbanks, Bradley County’s fire chief and EMS director, said he is not planning to because he has no personnel to operate it.

"We have roughly 10 openings," Fairbanks said, adding EMS has hovered around 10 to 12 openings "for eight months or more."

Fairbanks said competition from private EMS services — higher base salaries and sign-on bonuses — drew some employees away. Some employees who left have asked to come back, and Fairbanks said some have been allowed to, while others have not.

Also, there are only about a dozen new students in the EMS classes at Cleveland State Community College and Chattanooga State Community College, he added.

Fairbanks said he understands Hamilton County has increased its starting pay in an effort to fill EMS vacancies.

Commissioner Bill Winters asked if Bradley County EMS would be fully staffed if it offered a $5,000 bonus. Fairbanks said he believes it could help, especially since he lost 11 employees to bonuses offered by other services.

Commissioner Thomas Crye made a motion to add a $5,000 sign-on bonus, paid over two years, for up to 10 employees. Commissioner Kevin Raper seconded the motion, which was unanimously approved.

Commissioner Milan Blake, who is not a member of the Emergency Services Committee but is chairman of the Finance Committee, asked if funding for the proposed sign-on bonus will come from the current fiscal year budget or from the 2019-20 budget. Fairbanks suggested the 2019-20 budget, with each half of the bonus paid on the hire date after the first and second years of employment.

Hughes said a new policy would need to be made to address the proposed sign-on bonus.

The Emergency Services Committee’s recommendation now goes to the full County Commission for review.

The committee members also approved a motion related to honoring personnel who responded to a recent house fire and resuscitated a young woman, Lindsey Cawood, who was overcome by smoke and lost consciousness while on the phone with a 911 dispatcher.

Winters said he would like the County Commission to present commendations for the personnel involved in the Cawood fire. Fairbanks said everyone involved in that incident had an integral role, and credited them for their training.

"Thank you for recognizing it, but we're doing our job," Fairbanks said.

Winters made a motion, seconded by Crye, to present commendations to the personnel involved in that incident.

In other business, the committee reviewed the budget requests for Emergency Medical Services and Fire-Rescue departments:

• Bradley County EMS

Fairbanks said the budget request of $6,342,605 includes one ambulance rechassis instead of two, and a command vehicle, as well as an increase in the fuel line item from $110,000 in the current budget to $140,000 in the 2019-20 budget.

"We're running 24 hours a day," Fairbanks said, adding there are about 28,000 EMS calls a year. "I'm out of fuel money right now."

Also, Fairbanks said EMS had renovations at the Paul Huff Parkway station, but the building needs a new roof "so we don't ruin all of the work we've done down there." For infrastructure, the budget includes about $25,000 allocated to the Eastside station on Dooley Street for duct work, sheetrock, flooring and other items.

Crye said based on revenue from 2017-18 collections of $5,345,255.74, the $5 million anticipated revenue for the 2019-20 budget is "substantially less." Fairbanks said monthly collections have been in the low $300,000 range, but had been $400,000 to $500,000.

"Our call volume surely has not dropped," he said. "I have no clue as to why they got lower for a while."

However, after talking with the collections representative Fairbanks said collections have been returning to close to the previous levels.

• Bradley County Fire-Rescue

Fairbanks said the current budget has gone well, and the 2019-20 budget request is $5,411,431.

One area of expenditure is related to fire trucks. Fairbanks said all the head gaskets have blown over the year on the department's Pierce fire trucks, adding to the maintenance and costs. He said Bradley County puts $250,000 per year in the budget to be able to fund buying a new truck every two years. However, the trucks are more expensive now, Fairbanks said, noting he received a quote for $690,000 for a Pierce truck with a Detroit engine, and about $500,000 for an E-ONE truck with a Cummings engine.

Crye said it is cheaper to replace gaskets than vehicles. Fairbanks said that's true, but as the trucks get older they have more issues and maintenance costs.

Fairbanks said the department has new air-spaks and bunker gear, and has ordered 14 new helmets, as well as a new heavy truck purchased new from a department in Texas, and new dive equipment. He said in the 2019-20 budget he plans to focus on more new helmets and rope gear.

Hughes asked if the employee turnover has slowed down. Fairbanks said it has, but he has heard some area departments will be hiring this year. He added there are currently two open slots in Fire-Rescue.

Fairbanks said he wants to move an employee into a full-time training position, but it will have no impact on the budget.

During discussion of the Fire-Rescue budget, the committee discussed the impact an appraisal ratio will have on the fire tax. The ratio, based on a formula from the State Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office, has effectively flattened the county’s property tax growth and will also affect the fire tax.

"It's going to affect the fire department considerably," Hughes said, asking Blake to explain the ratio.

Blake said there are two fire tax rates — .39 for Fire District 1 (Rural) and .41 for Fire District 2 (Fringe). He said a certain amount of growth is calculated for property tax assessments

"It looks like you're only going to have revenue of $18,355" for local growth for Fire District 2, Blake said. Local growth for Fire District 1 is negative $8,329.

Blake said the Fire-Rescue budget is not being hit as hard proportionally as the full county budget, but is affected. He said the state conducted a ratio study of market value of property assessments and set a ratio of .8717.

"We had some growth in Bradley County, but they took it away," Blake said of the ratio.

In all, Hughes said there is a $141,940 total fire tax loss for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

"That is going to hurt you, I don't care how you look at it," Hughes said, adding the fire tax, property tax and some donations are the only revenue sources for Fire-Rescue.

Fairbanks said the department bought most of its needed equipment in the current fiscal year so there is not too much to purchase in 2019-20. Crye asked where the loss will fall in the Fire-Rescue budget. Fairbanks said it could be in maintenance, equipment or fuel.

"It's going to hurt," Fairbanks said. "It's going to be tight. I can't predict what it's going to affect — it remains to be seen.”

Blake said on a positive note, sales tax is up and Bradley County is earning interest on certificates of deposit because of increased interest rates.

"It doesn't take care of this, but it's better than nothing," he said.

Blake said the only way to avoid the appraisal ratio is to do an annual appraisal, which will cost $70,000 to $80,000.

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