Immediate raises for Lawrence EMTs shut down by city council

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LAWRENCE, Ind. -- A plan that would have given Lawrence EMTs an immediate raise was shut down Wednesday night during a city council meeting.

Members voted 6-3 against what would have been an immediate $2 raise.

Lawrence Fire Chief Dino Batalis said the proposal would have sustained EMTs at least through the end of the year. In the last two weeks, three EMTs have left the Lawrence squad to go to better paying cities.

Right now, Lawrence EMTs make $16/hour. Indianapolis EMTs start at $19/hour. Wayne Township EMTs start at a salary of $20. Batalis said he understands why members of Lawrence need to leave for better paying jobs.

“To better their family and make anywhere from 3 to 5 dollars more an hour, I can’t blame them," Batalis said.

Batalis and other city council members are concerned the problem of retention requires an immediate solution. Since the proposal failed, there's concern even more EMTs could leave.

"There’s a lot of talk and with this not passing tonight, I’m not sure what the outcomes gonna be," said Batalis.

Many of the city council members who voted against the proposal said they feel a more permanent solution is necessary. They came up with a proposal that would give EMTs a $4 raise starting in 2017.

“It gives us an opportunity to work with the controllers office to find the money pull into some different pots of funding to fund that increase," said Tyrrell Giles, (D)- District 1. He added, “We were trying to work diligently to find a long term solution, instead of a bandaid solution.”

Batalis said, according to the city controllers office, a $2/hour wage increase would be sustainable until the end of the year. He's not sure about a $4/hour increase because other cities may also become competitive with wages in their 2017 budgets.

“Their confidence level is, we can’t pay two, how are we assured that they’re going to pay 4," Batalis said.

His concern is not only for firefighter and EMT safety, but response times for Lawrence residents. When a fire truck responds to a medical call, firefighters must stay on scene until a patient is transported. Batalis said that means a firetruck is out of service until an EMT truck arrives and with less EMT staff, it's likely arriving from a nearby department with longer wait times.

"I think the citizens of Lawrence deserve better and I’m just trying to deliver the service that they not only paid for but they deserved," Batalis said.

The proposal to increase wages for the 2017 budget was given to the finance committee. It could be voted on as early as next month's city council meeting.

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