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By LeAnn R. Ralph
Editor’s Note: LeAnn R. Ralph serves as chair of the Town of Otter Creek.
COLFAX — Representatives for the municipalities served by the Colfax Rescue Squad have recommended that the EMTs receive raises of $2 an hour and that the ambulance service has four 40-hour per week EMTs.
The $2 an hour raises and the hiring of four full-time employees, in addition to Don Knutson, director of the Colfax Rescue Squad, was part of “Option D” presented at the Colfax Rescue Squad’s annual meeting August 31.
The Colfax Rescue Squad is owned by the Village of Colfax, so the final decision on a budget for 2024 will be part of the Colfax Village Board’s budget process.
This year, however, the village board wants to know which option the municipalities would recommend, Knutson said.
The 2024 budget total for Option D is $619,484.
Option A, with a total budget for 2024 of $564,009, would make the two existing 30-hour per week EMTs into full-time employees with a 2 percent wage increase.
A 2 percent wage increase would amount to about 30 or 40 cents more per hour.
The EMTs currently are paid starting wages of $10 per hour for an EMT-Basic, $11 per hour for an EMT-Advanced, and $13.50 per hour for 30-hour per week employees.
The $2 an hour increase would bring the starting wages up to $12 per hour for an EMT-Basic, $13 per hour for an EMT-Advanced and $15.50 for the 30-hour per week employees.
Option A would increase the per capita for the municipalities from $27.52 for 2023 to $33.56 for 2024.
Option B with a total budget for 2024 of $594,625 would add one full-time employee and change three part-time positions to full time with a 2 percent wage increase.
Option B would increase the per capita for the municipalities from $27.52 to $37.11.
Option C, with a total budget for 2024 of $585,642, would give three full-time employees a $2 an hour raise.
Option C would increase the per capita from $27.52 to $36.06.
Option D, with the four full-time employees and a $2 per hour raise, would increase the per capita from $27.52 to $40.02.
Knutson, as director of the rescue squad, has, at times, worked more than 100 hours per week.
The plan is that adding more full-time employees will allow Knutson to ease off on his work load and maybe even take some time off once in a while.
More full-time employees also will help fill the schedule at the Colfax Rescue Squad.
As Knutson pointed out, state law requires ambulance services to be staffed 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
State law does not require fire departments and police departments to be staffed 24 hours per day, seven days per week, he noted.
And while the Colfax Rescue Squad has been able to get by with the casual part-time EMTs on the roster, in addition to the 30-hour employees and Knutson, the hope is that increasing the wages will encourage more people to want to work for the Colfax Rescue Squad as EMTs.
All ambulance services in the rural parts of the state are having difficulty finding EMTs.
Wages of $12 per hour, $13 an hour or $15.50 an hour do not seem like very much to pay someone who is expected to save your life in an emergency, but as Knutson and the EMTs who attended the annual meeting said, increasing the wages by $2 an hour would bring Colfax closer to the wages paid by surrounding ambulance services.
For the past several years, EMTs in Boyceville, for example, have been paid $13 per hour for an EMT-Advanced, $12 per hour for an EMT-Basic and $11 per hour for an EMR (emergency medical responder).
Last September, the Boyceville Community Ambulance District Board unanimously approved that EMTs who respond to a call outside of the time when they are signed up to be at the station for a shift be paid for a minimum of three hours, and if the call goes over three hours, the EMTs should be paid for six hours, effective immediately.
Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, also noted that the full-time EMTs in Colfax will receive state retirement, will be able to sign up for health insurance through the village if they want it or need it, and will be paid time and a half for time worked over 40 hours per week.
For the 2024-2025 biennial state budget, all of the municipalities in Wisconsin will receive an increase in state-shared revenue.
According to state law, the increased state-shared revenue can only be spent on transportation, infrastructure or emergency services.
The per capita increase for the Colfax Rescue Squad would be classified as going toward emergency services.
Because of the increase in shared revenue from the state, the property tax levies for the municipalities served by the Colfax Rescue Squad will not be affected by the increase in the per capita.
The state of Wisconsin imposes levy limits on the municipalities, so even if the state shared revenue did not increase, the increase for the rescue squad would still not increase the property tax levy because most municipalities are already at the levy limit, trying to pay for roads, buy equipment, maintain their buildings and pay their employees.
Without the increased state shared revenue, instead of increasing the tax levy, municipalities would have to reduce something else in the budget, such as road maintenance, to pay for the increase for the rescue squad — or the municipalities would have to invoice each household separately for the per capita.
The following are estimated increases in state shared revenue for the municipalities served by the Colfax Rescue Squad:
• Village of Colfax — $55,254 more in shared revenue (Option D would increase the per capita by $14,567).
• Town of Colfax — $50,933 more in shared revenue (Option D would increase the per capita by $15,455).
• Village of Elk Mound — $46,500 more in shared revenue (Option D would increase the per capita by $11,915.)
• Town of Elk Mound — $61,974 more in shared revenue (Option D would increase the per capita by $26,041).
• Town of Grant — $36,589 more in shared revenue (Option D would increase the per capita by $4,700).
• Town of Otter Creek — $38,575 more in shared revenue (Option D would increase the per capita by $6,833).
• Town of Sand Creek — $40,202 more in shared revenue (Option D would increase the per capita by $7,507).
• Town of Tainter — $74,631 more in shared revenue (Option D would increase the per capita by $16,492).
• Village of Wheeler — $35,530 more in shared revenue (Option D would increase the per capita by $3,992).
Per capita totals
The per capita totals for the municipalities for Option D are as follows:
• Village of Colfax — $47,344 (estimated population for 2024 of 1,183).
• Town of Colfax — $49,745 (population of 1,243).
• Village of Elk Mound — $38,939 (population of 973).
• Town of Elk Mound — $78,439 (population of 1,960).
• Town of Grant — $15,488 (population 387).
• Town of Otter Creek — $21,171 (population 529).
• Town of Sand Creek — $24,212 (population 605).
• Town of Tainter — $53,067 (population 1,326).
• Village of Wheeler — $13,047 (population 326).
The Colfax Messenger reporter covers the Boyceville ambulance district for the Tribune Press Reporter in Glenwood City.
This year, by way of comparison, the Village of Boyceville paid $142,430 for the ambulance assessment, which is nearly $100,000 more than the Village of Colfax would pay for Option D in 2024. (Boyceville has a population of about 1,100.)
The townships in the Boyceville ambulance district, which have smaller populations than the Town of Elk Mound and the Town of Tainter, for example, paid between $40,000 and $50,000 this year for the ambulance assessment.
The Village of Colfax is starting the budget process and is expected to approve a budget for the Colfax Rescue Squad later this fall.
The wage increases and the increase in full-time employees would go into effect on January 1, 2024.