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Head of ambulance department resigns
Jul 3, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
The announcement comes amid continuing budget discussions with the Fremont County Commission.
Lauri Wempen is resigning from her post as director of the Fremont County Ambulance Department amid continuing budget discussions with the Fremont County Commission.
On Tuesday, Wempen said she chose to step down as a result of budget meetings with the Commissioners over the past six weeks.
"Due to the board's reluctance or unwillingness to continue the high level of emergency care to the public, as has been demonstrated by this year's budgeting process, I am no longer willing to accept the responsibility and liability that goes with the position," Wempen said, reading from her letter of resignation.
"We're up to the 11th hour here," she continued. "For the sake of this department, we need to decide what direction we're going."
Wempen had just presented a revised fiscal year 2014 budget for emergency medical services during the Commission meeting. The new plan called for just under $3 million in expenditures, with $821,000 coming from the ambulance department's $1.6 million cash reserve.
The proposal is down from a $3.3 million budget presented in June and a $4.1 million plan from May.
"I don't think it's appropriate to deplete your reserve," Commissioner Keja Whiteman said in response to the proposal.
Wempen indicated that she had been trying to follow the direction of the board in revising her budget. At other meetings, the ambulance director said she needed to increase staff to cover the amount of calls her department receives, and to compensate for dwindling volunteer numbers. The impending cost of federal requirements to insure employees is also adding to the budget, she said.
In the past, Wempen has told commissioners that it might be necessary to find new revenue streams by creating a special tax district or charging municipalities for services. The county board had asked Wempen to reduce her budget, and commissioners discussed raising the rates for ambulance services, but they made no decisions about personnel, insurance or new revenues at previous meetings in the last six weeks.
On Tuesday, Commission Chairman Doug Thompson said the county board had suggested during its June 25 meeting that Wempen look into canceling transportation service between hospitals. He pointed to the suggestion as an example of direction from the county board.
That's when Wempen announced her resignation. She said she would like to return to a part-time emergency medical technician position as of July 11.
Commission Chairman Doug Thompson said the board would act on her resignation at a later date.
During this week's meeting, the Commission decided to recalculate the ambulance budget to include a fee increase. Commissioner Larry Allen recommended upping the fee from its $600 base to $900 for one year.
"(Let's) see what it does," Allen said.
The representatives also talked about providing insurance for employees who currently don't receive benefits.
"I do see a need for these people who are working as much as 36 hours to be getting benefits," Commissioner Stephanie Kessler said. "I don't want to necessarily lose any more staff than we currently have."
Thompson suggested providing single insurance plans starting Jan.1. Those benefits would cover the employees -- not their spouses or children -- and would conform to new federal regulations under the Affordable Care Act.
"You've given them something to stay on for," he said. "I guess I'm thinking that would help recruitment and retention."
Finally, they discussed raises for ambulance staff. Whiteman suggested granting ambulance personnel a $750 annual raise like other county workers, but she wants to stick with a budget similar to last year's until the board addresses all the issues facing the emergency services department.
Commissioner Travis Becker suggested the county offer to pay for training for EMTS.
"It's going to help if they know the classes they're required to take are going to be taken care of," he said.
Freese said she would ask Wempen to develop a new budget incorporating the rate increase, the raise and offering single insurance plans for current part-time, non-benefitted employees starting Jan. 1. The board will take up the issue before a public hearing on July 8, Thompson said.