(La Porte, IN) - La Porte County officials are hoping a six-percent wage increase is enough to stop the alarming rate of ambulance workers and jail officers from leaving for much higher pay elsewhere.
With a sense of urgency, the La Porte County Council also approved the same pay increase for police officers, 911 dispatchers, and others viewed as frontline workers like the La Porte County Highway Department workers.
The County Council approved a five-percent increase in pay to all other county employees. However, Councilman Earl Cunningham said he would have supported a 10-percent across-the-board pay hike if the county could afford it.
The increase wasn't close to what LaPorte County Emergency Medical Service Administrator Andrew McGuire felt would solve the high turnover in his department. So several weeks ago, McGuire proposed a $10,000 raise for every paramedic and emergency medical technician to be more competitive with the salaries offered by surrounding municipalities.
“I do appreciate what they did for us tonight but there’s more work that needs to be done,” he said.
EMS Captain Jeff Koon said ambulance workers putting in 60 hours a week and paid overtime still earn less than $16 an hour.
He said 27 paramedics and ten emergency medical technicians have left over the past five years. Koon said about 40-percent of those departures occurred this year.
“We have a problem,” Koon said.
There have also been turnover problems at the E-911 Dispatch Center and La Porte County Jail. Sheriff John Boyd said 14 jail officers had become correctional officers elsewhere this year primarily for higher pay.
Boyd said he hasn't lost any patrol officers but could if the raises don't close the gap enough with the $10,000 or more in higher pay they can earn at some of the other surrounding police departments.
“We have to keep up with what those agencies are paying. If those agencies can afford it, we certainly can afford it,” he said.
Council President Randy Novak said the $21 million in federal dollars the county government received under the American Rescue Plan could boost pay further. However, he said once those dollars are spent, there's no other revenue stream in place right now to maintain higher pay levels. Novak mentioned that raises aren't sustainable without additional revenue methods.
Novak and other decision-makers hinted at raising the county income tax to generate additional funds for salaries. Previously, County Auditor Tim Stabosz also mentioned the possible need for tax increases to pay for the county's staffing needs. However, more income tax revenue could be nullified if talk of state tax cuts materializes next year. Novak said that would mean about a $3 million loss in annual revenue from the state government.
The county commissioners have recommended bonuses of anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 in addition to the pay hike for each employee to help ease turnover. Novak said the council would consider bonuses at a special meeting on December 13.