HOISINGTON — The city held its annual budget hearing Monday night. The good news is, taxpayers will feel virtually no difference in their outflow to the city this year. That’s because the mill levy rate is down slightly, and the city is holding the line on expenses. The not so good news is, in order to do this, some staff positions will continue to remain vacant in the coming year. They include directors of the Public Works and Electrical Generation departments, which are longtime vacancies, as well as an assistant for EMS Director Megan Elmore. The EMS position was of key concern to some council members.
Currently, the only full-time employee is Elmore. She took the position after former director Scott Fleming departed last year. Since then, she has been tasked with rebuilding the city’s volunteer staff made up of EMTs, AMTs and Paramedics. The need for volunteers became more critical when COVID-19 became a concern. Additional safety protocols needed to be adopted in order for volunteers to operate safely and effectively.
Council member Carrol Nather asked if Elmore had been able to take any time off in the past few months. Earlier in the year, arrangements were made so she could take time off on a weekend, but since then,it has only happened one or two additional times, City Manager Jonathan Mitchell said. This is in part because weekend shifts are difficult to fill with volunteers. A few dedicated persons routinely agree to help so the service can provide the coverage the city requires. Elmore also fills other shifts throughout the week that volunteers are not scheduled for in order to ensure the minimum number of persons available to take calls, Mitchell said.
A real concern is the possibility of burnout, which council member Gary Shook raised. So far, Elmore has indicated she is not overwhelmed, Mitchell said. The EMS director, present at the meeting, raised no objections. Still, Shook wondered about the department’s plan should Elmore be quarantined or became sick. Staff members who are certified EMTs would be asked to fill in that event, Mitchell said. At this time, Mitchell and one other staff member have gone through training.
For several months, the city has been offering incentives to volunteers to recruit additional EMTs. The Great Bend Tribune reached out to Mitchell inquiring how many have responded. So far, four to five who were previously certified have agreed to volunteer, and some cash incentives have been paid to recruiting volunteers.
Once again, Mitchell announced the city is willing to pay for training and certification through Barton Community College to individuals willing to volunteer a set amount of hours in exchange. Classes have already started for the fall semester, but he is hopeful some additional recruits may step forward soon.
Nather asked if perhaps the city should consider offering one of the volunteers a staff position, but that would simply be reorganizing the existing pool of help, Mitchell countered. Alternatively, the city could consider converting its EMS from volunteers to staff, but that would require making room in the budget for eight to 10 additional full-time employees, Mitchell said. This suggestion was met with silence. With that, the budget hearing was brought to an end.