EMS Deputy Chief Paul Tibbs

EMS Deputy Chief Paul Tibbs reviews payroll documents on Thursday. The checks of several employees of Coffee County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) were significantly cut last month – with some employees receiving $400 less than they were owed. 

The paychecks of several Coffee County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) employees were significantly cut during the last two pay periods because the county personnel manual hadn’t been updated to include information about the unique way EMS payroll should be completed.

After members of the Coffee County Ambulance Authority voiced their concerns about the issue to the Coffee County Compensation and Personnel Committee on Jan. 9, the Coffee County Commission held a special-called meeting Tuesday to update the manual and correct the problem.

 

No warning

The unpleasant surprise started, just before Christmas, when all EMS employees that had taken any paid vacation days during that pay period received less than they expected.

One employee, for example, was paid $900 less than what she was owed for the two pay periods. EMS employees are paid every two weeks.

Several days before the checks were cut, that employee had received a letter from the Coffee County Budget and Finance Office informing her she had too many vacation days on the books and asking her to use some of those days, according to EMS officials.

When they first saw the discrepancy, EMS officials notified the accounts and budgets office there had been a mistake.

However, not only were the checks not corrected, but two weeks later, when it was time to deliver compensation for the next pay period, the payroll information received by EMS officials showed the checks would be reduced again.

About 30 full-time employees work at the EMS. The paychecks of more than half of those employees were erroneously cut.

 

What led to the problem?

Because of the unique way emergency medical employees are paid throughout the state, the ambulance authority was aware such issues were possible and several times had officially asked the compensation committee to include in the personnel policy information about the way EMS workers should be compensated.

With personnel transfers within the accounts and budgets department, the clerk handling EMS payroll in December didn’t have experience with the system by which EMS employees were supposed to be paid.

But, according to Ambulance Authority Chairman Mark Kelly, the mistake could have been avoided if a section of the county personnel policy had addressed EMS payroll, as the authority had requested.

The ambulance authority had asked the compensation and personnel committee last year to address the problem, but, according to Kelly, the issue was never added to the agenda.

When the EMS checks were cut last month and the issue was brought to the attention of Director of Accounts and Budgets Marianna Edinger, she was asked to pay the full promised amount to the EMS employees. Her position, however, was that any payments made in conflict with the county personnel manual would be illegal.

Commissioner Margaret Cunningham said during Tuesday’s meeting that Edinger didn’t do anything wrong. Edinger’s position was the lawful approach according to the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), said Cunningham. CTAS provides technical consulting and training to assist officials in all areas of county government operations.

The full commission voted Tuesday to add the necessary language to the county policy. Commissioners also voted to immediately compensate EMS employees for any shortage of funds.

 

Elena Cawley may be reached via email at ecawley@tullahomanews.com