I received a call from Mark Lazarus this morning. Lazarus informed me that I was incorrect in what I reported about Fire and EMS enhancements. After reviewing the tape of the Spring Budget Retreat, before first reading of the budget during the Spring Budget Retreat, council voted to amend the budget to include the extra three percent increase for fire fighters from the county’s Fire Fund and I originally reported it incorrectly below as not being in the budget. I did not see any amendment to appropriate general fund money for the EMS workers. Lazarus informed me that the EMS increase is also in the budget from first reading on and he took exception to my use of the word retribution.
Below is an email Lazarus shared with me from Justin Powell to more completely explain the changes:
From: Powell, Justin <[email protected]>
Sent: Monday, May 21, 2018 10:51 AM
To: Mark Lazarus <[email protected]>
Cc: Eldridge, Chris <[email protected]>; Spivey, Barry <[email protected]>; Huffman, Joe <[email protected]>
Subject: FW: Budget Ordinance Proposed Vs. 1st Reading Revised for 2nd Reading
The second reading ordinance adopted by County Council included all proposed increases for public safety, both law enforcement and Fire and Rescue. The first reading ordinance initially proposed to County Council included the $1/hour increase for all law enforcement (Police, Sheriff, Detention). Hence, no amendment was required.
During adoption of first reading on March 23, a motion was made to adopt the Fire and Rescue increases that were proposed on March 22. This is found at approximately 1:49:00 on the video from that day. Given that amendment, the second reading ordinance submitted to County Council included the increase for Fire and Rescue as adopted by County Council.
Fire and Rescue’s budget is split between the General Fund (for EMS) and the Fire Fund (for fire service). The Fire Fund increased by $261,930 between the first reading version and the second reading version. The General Fund’s portion was absorbed without a net increase in total General Fund expenditures due to a recalculation of overhead expenses that are shared by the Fire Fund and General Fund.
The bottom line is that the staff included in the second reading ordinance – based on the motion made by County Council in first reading – sufficient funds necessary to pay for the public safety increases.
By Paul Gable
Budget enhancements to provide additional three percent raises to Horry County Fire and EMS personnel were mysteriously missing from second reading of the budget last week.
During the first day of Horry County Council’s Spring Budget Retreat, Council Chairman Mark Lazarus proposed an additional three percent pay raise for Fire and EMS certified officer salaries. This raise would be in addition to the average three percent across the board merit raises for all county employees in the coming fiscal year.
Lazarus said he had been working with county staff for several months to identify money to provide this enhancement to the salaries of EMS and Fire personnel.
According to Lazarus, staff would need to make amendments to the budget that received first reading approval from council at the Spring Budget Retreat. He said the cost for these raises would be approximately $262K from the general fund for EMS personnel and $246K from the fire fund for firemen.
Lazarus directed staff to, “Come back at second reading (of the budget) for the following changes – increase all Fire and EMS certified officer salaries by three percent in addition to the merit raise.”
Second reading and public review of the budget passed Tuesday May 15, 2018 with only one public comment, made by Coast RTA General Manager/CEO Brian Piascik thanking council for additional Coast funding beginning July 1, 2018.
There was no discussion from staff or council members including any explanation of why the budget enhancements ordered by Lazarus for Fire and EMS personnel were missing from second reading.
Lazarus pledged to “ensure a good working environment for all county employees,” during his 2014 reelection campaign.
Mandatory overtime is one of the problems Fire and EMS personnel face on a routine basis. Recently, one employee, speaking of working conditions in the department, told the media, “I am married with kids. My wife feels like a single mother.”
Low pay and shortage of staff have led to considerable turnover of employees within the Fire and EMS department over the past four years.
Lazarus said the additional pay increase he requested for second reading of the budget would help with the overtime problem, although it wasn’t clear from where he drew this conclusion.
Now, even that appears in doubt.
Eight days after Lazarus made his direction to staff to have the budget enhancements at second reading of the budget, Johnny Gardner filed to run against Lazarus for the Republican nomination for council chairman.
Gardner received the endorsement of the Horry County Professional Fire Fighters Local 4345 of the International Association of Fire Fighters nine days after filing for election.
Five weeks after the endorsement, second reading of the budget was held with enhancements for an additional three percent raise for Fire and EMS personnel glaringly not included, even though directed by Lazarus at the Spring Budget Retreat.
Is this retribution for the fire fighters and EMS employees endorsing Gardner?