Council updated on state of the union of emergency services

‘If you want it and need it’you’ve got to pay for it.’ It was a quote that summed up a lengthy discussion item Wednesday morning when the Brady City Council met and mulled the probability of increasing fire, EMS and police department personnel salaries in order to be competitive with similar-sized cities and with the hopes of lowering employee turnover. In a request from Mayor James Stewart, Police Chief Tommy Payne, Fire Department Chief Randy Rankin and Emergency Medical Service Director Eddie Sayles each gave an update on their problems with staffing and turnover. Using Llano’s PD, fire and EMS departments as a comparable example, they each showed how Brady falls behind in providing competitive salaries. Up first to address the council, Chief Payne noted that his department is currently two officers short, and one of those positions hasn’t been filled in nine months of advertisements at the current starting salary. The other absence is in the animal control department since the current officer’a member of the National Guard’has been deployed to Iraq. To meet Llano’s rates for current employees and include insurance benefits (with 80/20 coverage), the department would need an additional $108,359 per year just to meet what other counties the size of Brady are already paying their officers. Getting law enforcement officers to stay here is growing harder and harder to do since the rate of salary in Brady continues to be $4,000- $6,000 lower per year. A common problem the police department faces is having to hire officers straight out of the academy, training them to serve in their new capacity and watching them walk away to a bigger and better deal. “The City of Brady has millions of dollars in assets, but the most valuable asset it has is its employees,” Payne told the council. ‘Employee turnover is a big expense to any business,’ said Stewart. Rankin also agreed with Payne, stating, ‘It’s hard to keep people here when they can go elsewhere and make twice as much’if not more.’ While the fire department is at full staff, Rankin told the council Wednesday morning that his department is in the “same boat” as the PD because trying to get people to even come here due to the pay is a difficult task’at best. To bring his staff to comparable wages with Llano would mean a $39,000 increase to current salaries. This total, of course, is without any additional incentives such as special pay rates for lieutenants, captains, assistant chiefs, drivers, etc. “We do have to address these issues or we’ll continue to be a revolving door,” said Stewart. Up next, EMS Director Eddie Sayles told the council that his department has been advertising for two months for a paramedic ($30,000-$35,000 annual pay) and no candidates have submitted applications. His department is currently short one full-time employee, and he’s holding out for a paramedic rather than an EMT because the EMS is required to have one paramedic on both the first and second truck dispatched to a location. His recommendation to compensate his current staff would result in an overall increase of $69,000 to boost all current salaries to comparable levels. “Our job as the council is to ensure that our citizens are taken care of, and these people do just that,” Stewart said. “We want city employees to come to Brady and stay; we don’t want to train them and have them move away because they don’t feel they are being fairly compensated. “We’re going to have to think outside of the box to find a solution. We can’t just come up with $169,000 out of thin air. We have to work on getting the employees we have now compensated for what they could be getting elsewhere.” “We have a good core of EMS employees,” Sayles added. “They have stuck around here for a long time (ranging from four to 17 years), and I’d like to get them a fair pay for the time they’ve spent here.” In noting that Brady is undergoing a major face-lift and has strong potential for growth, Stewart added, “We’ve got to position ourselves to where five years from now, we’re not still trying to play catch-up. Personally, I’d like to see it happen as soon as possible to get our current salaries where they need to be to show these employees we value them and their service and dedication.” In discussing where the money would come from, several options were presented, including the utilization of funds set aside in the contingency fund (an unassigned fund of money) that could be available to fund some of the pay increases. According to City Finance Officer Lisa Remini, who included that she would have to “crunch some numbers,” she feels that based on the city’s current revenues, she feels strongly that there are some resources available in that fund to help with the increase which would cover the end of the current fiscal year. After discussing the item further, the council agreed to address the item in a more formal manner, rather than only as discussion, during the next city council meeting. Heart of Texas Memorial Hospital Administrator gave an update on its working agreement with the EMS department. Two months ago, the hospital board agreed to subsidize the city/county department with an annual payment of $70,000 and also agreed to pay the EMS supervisor salary. After studying the numbers, Jones noted that of the $500,000 spent last year on the EMS department, only half of that money was collected. The department averages 1,000 ambulance runs per year with 250 of those being requests for transfers. “This is not a revenue-generated expense,” Jones told the council when discussing the EMS operation. “The EMS crew is doing a great job. There are few EMS departments that actually do cover expenses. The only way an EMS makes money is if it does lots of transfers per day to break even. “It’s a service we’ve got to have. If you want it and you need it, you’ve got to pay for it.” In other business, the council approved Councilman Billy Patterson as the newest mayor pro-tem. As second-in-command to the mayor for the City of Brady, the position was previously held by Councilwoman Mary Bradshaw. Through a secret ballot, Patterson garnered three council votes while Mrs. Bradshaw brought in the final one. Councilman Tate made the motion to approve Patterson as mayor pro-tem, and the item was met by unanimous approval. As the next step to the council approving a budget amendment during the previous meeting, the group approved the purchase of a wheel scraper and dozer for the landfill. The lease-purchase for equipment comes with a 5,000-hour/five-year warranty. Taylor added that the current equipment’ which is reaching the 5,000-hour maximum time allotment’averages 1,000 hours per year. Surpassing the 5,000 could incur penalty charges for the city; therefore, the decision was made to enter into a new agreement and replace the current equipment to avoid any unnecessary charges. Up next, the council voted to move the next meeting originally scheduled for Wednesday, July 4 to Monday, July 2 in observance of the Fourth of July holiday. In two separate items’previously hashed out in an executive session with the city’s assistant attorney Matt de Ferranti’the council ratified the motion to approve settlements with previous City of Brady canine officers Don Enix and Wes Edwards. While the council could not divulge additional information about either action item, under executive session privileges, they did take the necessary steps to ensure that the city would not be faced with similar circumstances in the future. As the next item up for business, they approved a resolution and policy concerning the canine officer position, and according to Brady Police Chief Tommy Payne who addressed the council Wednesday morning, the new policy has already been put into effect. ‘This accounts for everything that we might have missed in the past,’ he said. The resolution now in place specifies how the canine officer and his salary will be kept, according to Taylor, who further explained that the item was approved as a resolution rather than an ordinance because it falls under departmental policy. Moving on, the council also agreed to enter into a contact with Brown & Gay Engineers for the design of recreational improvements to Richards Park. The original ‘Master Parks Plan’ was obtained several years ago when the Brady Economic Development Corporation agreed to fund the engineering project that resulted in a cost analysis and overall plan. Because of the lapse in time from the original plan being approved and with the increase in construction/labor costs associated with the project, the council was made aware that the costs will be higher then what was written for in the grants. While the approved firm is not the original firm which oversaw the first bid process, the engineer who handled the project remains the same. Paul Kruckemeyer, a former Brady resident, will remain as the lead engineering consultant for the project. Another stipulation for moving forward with the project and entering into an agreement with an engineering firm is the two-year deadline applied to the Texas Parks & Wildlife $400,000 grant. That money, in conjunction with a $200,000 grant from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) and other monetary donations could have the city funding as little as $100,000 of the $800,000-$900,000 project. As the next item up for discussion, the council voted to table the action item approving a memorandum of understanding between BLC (the company to handle a loan application process) and the City of Brady and approving local advisory loan committee members. The item will be addressed and possibly considered in a later meeting. As the last action item on Wednesday’s agenda, the council voted unanimously to enter into a partnership with LCRA in the parks grant contract. The step is a requirement in the City of Brady acquiring that $200,000 park improvement grant offered through LCRA. Under ordinances, the council approved the second and final reading amending the current ordinance on record, broadening the definition of junk vehicles, and approved the second reading setting a minimum charge of $50 for refusing transport from the EMS department after requesting service via telephone service. According to EMS reports, the number of 911 calls for local residents requesting assistance but refusing transfer has increased in recent months. The city hopes that assessing a minimum $50 fee for such calls will cut down the number of transport refusals and abuse of the 911 emergency system.

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