By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Instead of receiving $3.50 or $4.50 an hour, Colfax EMTs will now be paid $20 or $30 per ambulance run.
The EMT compensation proposal approved by the Colfax Village Board at a special meeting April 1 also includes other pay adjustments for the EMTs, such as a $25 stipend for attending meetings and a $25 flat fee for covering football games.
The village board is trying to fix two problems, said Gary Stene, village president.
“Not that we don’t value the service, but (the village needs to stay legal),” he said.
The first problem is that compensation for the EMTs must remain less than 20 percent of what it would cost to hire someone to do the job, otherwise they are considered employees and must be paid the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, Stene said.
At the same time — within the parameters that are available to the village — the EMTs should receive more compensation, he said.
Under the previous compensation package, EMTs were paid $3.50 per hour for being on-call and for going out on ambulance runs for an EMT Basic, and $4.50 per hour for an IV Tech.
Jackie Ponto, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, said the village’s attorney had advised her that the village could not legally pay EMTs differently at an hourly rate for a different level of skills.
Under the new proposal approved by the village board, all EMTs will receive $3.50 an hour for being on-call.
The EMTs can, however, be paid a different flat fee for a different level of skills when going out on ambulance runs, Ponto explained.
Under the new proposal, Colfax EMT Basics will receive $20 per ambulance run and IV Techs will receive $30 per run.
An average ambulance run is one hour and 48 minutes, noted Adam Vnuk, one of the Colfax Rescue Squad’s 30-hour per week EMTs.
Vnuk met with Ponto, Stene and Don Knutson, director of the Colfax Rescue Squad, to discuss the EMT pay rate and also worked on the proposal submitted to the village board.
Based on a run lasting 108 minutes, instead of $3.50 an hour for an ambulance run, an EMT Basic will earn about $11.11 an hour, and instead of $4.50 an hour, an IV Tech will earn $16.67 an hour.
Under the new package, instead of a per hour compensation of $7.25 (Basic) or $8.75 (IV Tech) per meeting of the Colfax Rescue Squad EMTs, all EMTs will receive a $25 stipend per meeting.
The EMTs meet monthly for continuing education and training.
Under the previous compensation, EMTs received $7.25 an hour (Basic) and $8.75 an hour (IV Tech) for covering football games.
Under the new compensation package, EMT Basics and IV Techs will receive a $25 flat fee.
EMTs staffing the second ambulance when it is called out received $14.50 an hour (Basic) or $17.50 an hour (IV Tech).
Under the new compensation, all EMTs will receive a $25 flat fee if the ambulance service director, Don Knutson, or his designee, has requested their services.
For special events, such as providing EMTs for horse shows at Otter Creek Farm, EMTs currently receive $14.50 per hour (Basic) or $17.50 an hour (IV Tech).
Under the new compensation package, all EMTs will receive $70 per five-hour block of coverage, which averages out to $14 an hour. If the ambulance is called out from the special event, the $25 stipend applies.
Overall, considering the average number of on-call hours for Colfax EMTs and the average number of ambulance runs, the new compensation package amounts to a 17 percent increase for IV Techs and a 33 percent increase for Basics, Vnuk said.
A few of the EMTs, perhaps four or five, typically put in enough on-call hours and go out on enough ambulance runs that they will have to be careful they do not go over the 20 percent level, he said.
Several village board members wondered if the new compensation package would keep the Colfax Rescue Squad competitive with other ambulance services in the area.
Bloomer, although not owned by the City of Bloomer, pays $2.85 per hour for on-call and $16.35 per hour for ambulance runs, Ponto said.
Boyceville has gone to a full-time ambulance service and also has become an ambulance district, Vnuk said.
Boyceville EMTs are paid $7.50 an hour and work 12-hour shifts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., he said.
Because Boyceville EMTs are employees of the ambulance district, the director can schedule them for work hours, Knutson said.
Because Colfax EMTs are volunteers, they sign up for a certain number of hours, but Knutson said he cannot schedule them for a certain number of hours.
Depending on how many ambulance runs and which EMTs end up going out with the ambulance, the Colfax Rescue Squad could be over budget with the new pay compensation package this year anywhere from $13,000 to nearly $23,000, Vnuk said.
All of the numbers are based on 500 calls per year, and over the last three years, the rescue squad has gone out on an average of 453 calls per year, Vnuk said, adding that the numbers also are based on the higher end of the compensation.
The $25 per ambulance run stipend is expected to result in a budget deficit of about $18,000, according to a comparison sheet supplied to the village board.
Knutson indicated that the rescue squad budget could accommodate the $18,000 deficit “with thrifty monitoring.”
By budget time this fall, Ponto said she would have a better idea of how the EMT pay increase was going to affect the rescue squad budget.
“We would have nine months to try it, and at budget time, we can address the budget and have time to levy,” said Richard Johnson, village trustee.
Vnuk said he had been asked by several area residents whether the per capita fee paid by the village and the townships in the ambulance service area went into the village’s general fund, and could be used for something like streets, or if the money went into the rescue squad’s account.
The per capita fees paid by the municipalities goes directly into the rescue squad’s account, Ponto and Stene said.
At the February 15 public safety committee meeting, committee members recommended that the Colfax Village Board approve the pay changes that had been discussed, said Mark Halpin, village trustee and chair of the public safety committee.
Susan Olson, village trustee, wondered if the new compensation package for EMTs should be retroactive to February.
“It is important we follow through,” she said.
Halpin agreed and pointed out that the EMTs had been told they would have an answer about the compensation at the village board’s first meeting in March.
Making the hourly on-call pay retroactive would be much more difficult, Ponto said.
For those who were paid at the $4.50 per hour rate, the calculation would include deducting $1 an hour retroactively and then adding the per run flat fee, she said.
The pay for ambulance runs at least should be retroactive, Halpin said.
The next pay period starts April 7, Knutson noted.
Scott Gunnufson, village trustee, wondered if the suggested flat fees and stipends would be considered a competitive wage for the Colfax Rescue Squad.
Several volunteer EMTs who attended the special village board meeting said they could not speak for the other EMTs, but in their opinion, the proposed compensation was acceptable.
“It would be tough for someone to have to explain to my four-year-old (son) that I was killed on I-94 (responding to an ambulance call) for $3.50 an hour,” said Colfax EMT Jessica Erickson.
The Colfax Village Board unanimously approved the proposal for EMT compensation, with the per hour on-call rate of $3.50 starting April 7 but with the ambulance run flat fee retroactive to March 11.