Fla. county votes to increase pay for emergency personnel

Marion County voted to approve an amended contract with the county's fire rescue union to increase the pay of paramedics and firefighter/paramedics

By Austin L. Miller
Ocala Star-Banner 

MARION COUNTY, Fla. — The Marion County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted to approve an amended contract with the county's fire rescue union to increase the pay of paramedics and firefighter/paramedics.

The vote means all current paramedics will see an increase of $3.43 per hour, which is $10,284.86 annually for dual-certified firefighter/paramedics and $10,000.17 for single certified paramedics.

The starting pay for paramedics also will increase. Firefighter/paramedics will now start at a base salary of $50,014.98, with single certified paramedics making a base salary of $45,715.04. The salary includes a transport stipend totaling $5,831 a year. County officials said dual-certified paramedics also are expected to make an extra $2 hourly stipend when working on a transport unit.

"The vote today to approve the contract was a commitment from the commission to invest in people and the citizens of Marion County," said Jay Boardman, president of the Professional Firefighters of Marion County.

Before the commissioners' vote, the approval had to be ratified by the union, which has been done. With everyone on board, the raises will take effect Oct. 1.

At a special workshop in late March, which was attended by the five county commissioners — Kathy Bryant, Michelle Stone, Jeff Gold, David Moore and Carl Zalak — Fire Chief James Banta presented an overview of the agency since he became chief in December 2017.

Banta told the commissioners that within the last five years, the department lost nearly 230 employees, overtime skyrocketed to more than $6 million and the starting pay was low compared to surrounding agencies. Banta said that in the last five months, employees had volunteered to work overtime 3,137 times. During that same span, employees were forced to work overtime 636 times.

After the workshop, Banta said, commissioners asked him to explore options on what it would take to attract and retain employees, evaluate other departments' salaries and talk with the union to see if they could come to a deal.

Banta said his staff did a survey of 66 departments — including the city of Ocala, Levy County, Leesburg and Gainesville — and that Marion County was in the bottom nine in starting pay for firefighter/paramedics. With the increase granted, that will lift the county to the top 13.

After Tuesday's vote, Banta said the decision is the first of many steps in turning around the agency. He said with the raises, they will be able to retain and recruit experienced employees.

"It makes us relevant again. We've gone from one of the lowest to the highest," Banta said, thanking county staff, administrators, commissioners, members of the union and his administration for working together to achieve a common goal.

Gold, a former county firefighter and a certified firefighter/paramedic who retired as a Marion County Sheriff's Office deputy, said Tuesday that he was "very happy" with the vote. He said the raise should "boost morale."

"It puts us on the right direction to be one of the leading fire departments in the state," he said.

Kathy Bryant, chair of the County Commission, said, "We are pleased to get this passed and it allows us to continue to provide the highest level of emergency medical services to residents and visitors of Marion County."

Copyright 2018 Ocala Star-Banner 


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