KEY LARGO -- The Key Largo Volunteer Ambulance Corps will ask the Key Largo Fire-EMS District for a 3 percent raise for its paramedics and volunteers next fiscal year.
The request is being spearheaded by board members Jackie Harder and Russ Cullen, neither of whom would be beneficiaries of the increase.
Using research from Salary.com and other online searches, Harder said Key Largo's emergency medical crews receive only a portion of what Miami-Dade crews get. Like-size towns across the state, including Cedar Key, also pay more than Key Largo, she said.
The 3 percent increase for volunteer reimbursement and paramedic pay would add $13,000 to the department's budget request. The $608,129 budget, however, is slightly lower than last year's and will be submitted later this month to the Key Largo Fire-EMS District, which taxes property owners and contracts with the corps for fire and ambulance services. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The district rejected a pay increase during last year's budget talks in an effort to hold down the property tax rate.
"One glaring thing that was not brought up was this is called a volunteer organization," said Fire-EMS District board member Bob Thomas, who was not on the board during last year's budget workshops. "Nothing was said about that."
But Thomas, who attended the Ambulance Corps meeting when the raise was discussed, said he was open to the idea.
"The overall cost is not going to be that much," he said. "Let's just see what the figures are. I'm not just going to say 'no.'"
Harder said the impact of the raise could be lessened by limiting overtime pay, but that was not embraced by other board members, who argued that current staffing of shifts often makes overtime necessary.
"This is the way it's always been done," board member Brenda Beckmann said, echoing other members of the board.
Historically, the district is unwilling to approve raises if Monroe County also is not offering raises to its employees.
The volunteer agency will also ask the district to pay $4,800 in legal fees to attorney Jack Bridges. Most of those fees were accrued by Bridges in response to the district's request that the Ambulance Corps form a new fire department. That department took over fire services from the Key Largo Volunteer Fire-Rescue Department on Memorial Day.
The Ambulance Corps will hold a special meeting June 25 to discuss the final draft of the budget before it is presented to the district.