Fla. County May Raise Firefighter/Paramedic Salaries by $10K
Ocala Star-Banner, Fla.
May 3—Answering to the call of more pay, county and fire union officials have tentatively agreed to raise the salary of firefighters/paramedics.
The proposed contract calls for an increase of $3.43 per hour that equals $10,285 annually for dual-certified firefighter/paramedics, and $10,000 for single-certified paramedics, county officials said Wednesday. With the jump, county officials said, the starting pay for firefighter/paramedics would be $50,015.
The Marion County Commission and the firefighters union still need to approve the plan. Jay Boardman, president of the Professional Firefighters of Marion County, said if it is ratified by the union and approved by the commission, the raise will be effective on Oct. 1.
"This will be the turning point for Marion County Fire Rescue and hopefully attract new people," Boardman said by phone Wednesday.
Boardman said the union met with each county commissioner to explain why pay raises are important.
At a special workshop in late March attended by the five county commissioners -- Kathy Bryant, Michelle Stone, Jeff Gold, David Moore and Carl Zalak -- Fire Chief James Banta presented an overview of the agency since he was selected in December 2017.
Banta told the commissioners that within the last five years, the department has lost nearly 230 employees, overtime has skyrocketed to more than $6 million while their starting pay is low compared to surrounding agencies. The chief said in the last five months, employees volunteered to work overtime 3,137 times. During that same time, employees were forced to work overtime 636 times.
After the workshop, Banta said Wednesday, commissioners asked him to explore options on what it would take to attract and retain employees, evaluate other departments' salaries and talk with the union to see if they could come to a deal.
Banta said his staff did a survey of 66 departments -- including the city of Ocala, Levy County, Leesburg and Gainesville -- and Marion County was in the bottom nine in starting pay for firefighters/paramedics. If the increase is granted, Banta said it would take them to the top 13.
"I'm excited for the future of Marion County Fire Rescue. It's a great leap forward," Banta said.
The chief said getting to this point took a collaborative effort from his staff, county commissioners, their staff, the union and the county administrator. He said everyone involved wanted to address this issue.
"This will not only make us competitive, but attract more people," he said.
Bryant, the County Commission chairwoman, said, "We're hopeful this is the final step in making our organization whole again."
Commissioner Jeff Gold has said that with so many firefighters/paramedics leaving the department, it was important for them to invest in the agency. He said the department cannot continue to pay a hefty amount of overtime and the county needs to stop being the training ground for others.
"We've lost so many of them over the years, it has put the county at risk," Gold said.