BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – A concern for the lack of full-time paramedics available for the July 1 start of the new county-run Lee County EMS has pushed Lee County Supervisors to offer an incentive to those who sign on with the service.
Lee County Supervisor Gary Seyb Jr., who is a liaison to the ambulance oversight committee, said the county has only secured about half the full-time staff needed to run the department efficiently.
“We haven’t had a enough applicants for full-time status to fill our July 1 commitment,” Seyb said. “With the bonus we’re looking to inspire some of the people to apply for full-time status. Our starting rate isn’t high enough to encourage others who have been doing this to apply for us.”
Seyb said his concern is that the county would be looking at heavy overtime costs that would surpass the amount of the bonus. He said second- and third-year pay increases put the future county employees in line with other providers.
Lee County Supervisor Chair Matt Pflug asked why the county shouldn’t offer the sign-on-bonus up front.
Seyb said the hope was to not only incentivize the position, but encourage people to stick around until the second year where a 20-cent per hour pay increase would then serve as the incentive to keep people on board.
Any employees with one suspension would face a delay in their bonus payment until a full year from the completion of the suspension. Any employee with two suspensions prior to receiving the bonus would lose the bonus.
Supervisor Ron Fedler asked if the committee had considered requiring a two- to three-year commitment as part of the bonus program. He said without that there’s really nothing keeping someone from working the first year, taking the bonus, and then leaving.
Lee County Ambulance Director Dennis Cosby said he advocated for just one year. He said the pay increases at years two and three should suffice to keep staff on board, in addition to a better schedule and brand new equipment.
Seyb said it’s his understanding that just three paramedics graduated from the Southeastern Community College program last semester.
“Paramedics are very undervalued and in Southeast Iowa, on top of that, there are very few of them. The only thing we could do to inspire them would be to offer an even higher bonus,” he said.
“This is the first person on site when someone is having a heart attack or a stroke. I want to see the best people we can get. If we’re asking them to take a $5,000 or $10,000 pay cut the first year. that’s pretty tough for somebody to do.”
Cosby said the county needs to hire nine full-time paramedics, in addition to some part-time fill-in positions.
Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise, who also sits on the oversight committee, said the committee is trying to make make the positions as attractive as possible working two-day rotations and trying to avoid the 80 and 90 hour work weeks some providers are facing.
Cosby said that potential is what is causing some qualified people to leave the area.
“Some have expressed concern that they were going to have to work 80 to 90 hours a week and they just aren’t interested in that. We want to make sure we are fully staffed so they aren’t facing that,” Cosby said.
Seyb motioned to approve the bonus plan and Fedler seconded. The motion passed 4-0. Supervisor Rick Larkin was out on vacation.
In a related action, the board unanimously approved a policy and agreement around the bonus program. The program only applies to the county’s paramedics.
In other action, the board:
• approved a resolution opposing a rate hike proposal from Liberty Utilities for residents in Montrose, Keokuk and southern Lee county. The proposed rate increases include an 11.45% jump for residential customers, a 10.2% increase for commercial and a 2.95% increase on industrial rates in the county. The resolution was passed 4-0.
• approved the hire of a temporary part-time new hire in the conservation department for the summer.