Aiken County Council approves EMS shift change to 24/72 through June 30
May 3—The work schedule will be changing for employees of Aiken County's Emergency Medical Services Department before the end of the county's current fiscal year.
But County Council didn't commit Tuesday to making the adjustment permanent.
The panel voted unanimously to approve a resolution authorizing County Administrator Clay Killian to begin the transition from a 24 hours on/48 hours off shift to a 24 hours on/72 hours off shift for EMS personnel no later than May 12.
All nine members of County Council were present at the meeting, which was held at the Aiken County Government Center.
In recent months, both Killian and County Council Chairman Gary Bunker had been urging the panel to make the switch prior to the June 30 conclusion of the 2022/2023 fiscal year, saying it would help the county recruit and retain EMS employees.
They also said the change could be funded by 2022/2023 budget "underruns."
In an amendment to the resolution proposed by Councilman Kelley Mobley, which County Council unanimously approved, the switch to 24/72 will be effective through June 30 only and in addition, an independent contractor will conduct an EMS employee satisfaction survey during the transition.
The county's staff and County Council are in the midst of preparing the financial plan for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which begins July 1, and per the amendment, the 24/72 shift won't continue "unless we have found a way to provide for it in the coming budget," Mobley said.
Killian presented a proposed 2023-2024 fiscal year budget Tuesday that he said includes "not only the mid-year adjustment (in pay) Council made for our emergency medical services personnel," but also the extra money needed to fund the shift change to 24/72 that would require more employees to be hired.
The total cost to the county would be $3.4 million.
In addition, Killian said that a property tax increase estimated at "just over three mills" would be needed to pay for the EMS "adjustments" along with other expenses the county has.
Killian's proposed budget sets both the General Fund's revenue and expenditures for 2023/2024 at $89,230,553.
The General Fund provides money for the county's day-to-day operating expenses.
"I'm extremely pleased with the outcome we had this evening," said Bunker of the vote on the EMS-related resolution. "I think it's imperative that we lock into the 24/72. I believe we have had people who have wanted to come into the system who have been hesitant either because they wanted to wait until we did 24/72 or weren't sure that County Council was serious about doing 24/72. I think we demonstrated our commitment to do 24/72 tonight.
"Anything we do right now only impacts the current fiscal year anyway," Bunker continued. "So all we did was just restate the obvious, which is that it (the change to a 24/72 shift) is just through June 30."
Implementing the 24/72 shift before the conclusion of the 2022/2023 fiscal year has been a controversial issue for County Council.
Last month, the Judicial and Public Safety Committee voted 2-1 not to recommend making the change.
Then after Bunker placed the resolution on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting of County Council as a whole, the committee again voted 2-1 not to support the switch to 24/72 prior to the end of the current fiscal year.
On both occasions, committee members Phil Napier and Danny Feagin were against making the switch in May and the committee's chairman, Sandy Haskell, supported it.
There were heated exchanges during Tuesday's Judicial and Public Safety Committee meeting. Attendees included Mobley and other County Council members who aren't on the committee.
At one point, Haskell refused to recognize County Councilman Mike Kellems after Kellems raised his hand, signaling he wanted to speak. Haskell said he wanted to limit the discussion to Judicial and Public Safety Committee members and county staff.
"It's not that any of us are necessarily against the 24/72 shift," Mobley said. "We all hold public safety in the highest regard. It (24/72) is a wonderful idea if it improves the quality of life for EMS team members. But what some of us don't support is taking a vote to implement something that has a defined cost going forward that doesn't have an end to it."
Between the Judicial and Public Safety meeting Tuesday and the meeting of County Council as whole, an accord was reached during talks involving Bunker, Kellems, Mobley and "certain members of the JPS committee," Mobley said.
Said Bunker: "It was a non-quorum situation. That's what coming up with a compromise is, a lot of discussion bilaterally between individual members of Council."
Before County Council as a whole voted on the resolution, the panel unanimously approved an amendment offered by the panel's vice chairman, Andrew Siders, to move the resolution from the consent portion of the meeting's agenda, where multiple matters are considered at one time, to the new business section so that it could be dealt with as a separate matter.
Killian said after Tuesday's meeting of County Council as a whole that Stewart and Associates Inc., a consulting firm founded by Aiken resident Liz Stewart, would conduct the EMS employee satisfaction survey.
Liz Stewart is the chairman of the Aiken County Planning Commission.
The cost will be $4,000.
Killian said that as soon as the survey's questions are "put together," they would be sent by email to EMS workers, who would be given 10 days to respond.
Plans called for another company to conduct the study, but the county and that consultant failed to reach an agreement on a contract, Killian said.
According to Mobley, conducting such a survey is important to "get us some feedback from the EMS team on how they feel about working for Aiken County. Are they happy with the county? Are they happy with the shifts they work? What other things are in play other than compensation?
"In order to retain staff and improve the quality of their job environment, we've got to know what we're facing in all aspects," Mobley concluded.