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Novak, Debesis clash over EMS

Staff writer

Thirty minutes of arguing at Monday’s county commission meeting came to a single resolution: more years of fighting.

EMS director Ed Debesis directed a statement at commissioner Dianne Novak after his scheduled presentation, starting the half-hour debate centered on her successful push to drastically cut a proposed $500,000 overtime budget.

“I have never seen anything that authorizes that much overtime,” Novak said.

“In my opinion, you weren’t here for that conversation, and I’m sorry for that, but you should have done your research before you informed the public that I didn’t tell you about that,” Debesis said. “Those schedules were set before you and (commissioner) Kent (Becker).”

Debesis said EMTs are paid $15.50 an hour after a year plus overtime.

“I am not doing anything different than any other county in this state,” he said.

“I would disagree with that,” Novak said. “And I have researched that.”

“Show me,” Debesis said. “Show me, show me.”

“If I had known you would have asked me that today, I would have brought it today,” Novak said.

“I would love to see that, I would love to see that, because every county around us has overtime,” Debesis said with a laugh.

“They do, and so do you,” Novak said. “Even in your budget we allow you $100,000 in overtime. I’m not disputing that you don’t have overtime. I’m just disputing the amount of overtime that you’re getting.”

Debesis pointed his finger at Novak while the two disagreed on whether or not the pay, overtime, and schedule match up.

“Don’t tell me no,” he said.

“I’m telling you no,” she said.

“I’m not going to argue,” Debesis said as he threw his hands up. “I’m done with this conversation.”

Novak asked if a proposed four new full-time hires and four part-time hires would reduce the amount of overtime.

“No ma’am,” Debesis said. “I am filling the schedule the way it was proposed to the commission, and I am sorry that you don’t understand that.”

Novak said she was doing her job.

“It’s our job, according to Kansas statutes, to financially oversee budgets,” she said. “To budget half a million dollars of overtime, in my opinion, is not acceptable.”

County clerk Tina Spencer said her office provides personnel numbers and that Debesis only provides his desired number of people, skill level, and schedule.

“The numbers are still the same,” Novak said.

Debesis told Novak that she had been pronouncing his name incorrectly.

“Learn how to pronounce my name,” he said. “Maybe you should learn your department heads’ names.”

“I’m sorry, but this stuff,” Debesis said, as Novak cut him off.

“No, you’re not,” she said.

“No, I’m not,” he said. “I am retaliating on you pointing out stuff that I’m doing wrong that I am not doing wrong. It’s your neglect.”

“I’m talking budget, I’m not talking personal,” Novak said.

“My name, my name is what you’re (talking),” Debesis said. “That’s why I am here defending myself.”

Novak asked about alternatives to overtime pay.

“We’ve looked at every way, and this is the best way to do it,” Debesis said.

Spencer said compensatory time would be ineffective.

“Do you not understand that when it comes to adding people, it takes budget?” Debesis asked Novak. “Do you not understand adding people, you have to add insurance and benefits, which is higher than what I’m doing?”

Novak said the proposed $500,000 of overtime could hire 13 people, but benefits may drop the number to seven.

Debesis replied, slapping his hands on the table separating him from Novak.

“Do you want people to work here?” he said.

He then stood up to leave.

“I’m done with this,” he said.

“Sit down, Ed,” Dallke said.

“This is why I don’t come to you,” Novak said.

“No Dianne, you have been to my office once, and you don’t want me to bring that conversation up,” Debesis said.

Dallke then broke up the bickering.

“This is not helpful,” he said.

Becker said he supports analyzing overtime alternatives in the future.

“Going forward, we need to look at it,” he said. “But in the meantime, I don’t want to run employees off that we’ve got. We’ve got, from what I can see, an excellent staff right now. They work together well. I’ve talked to a number of them, and I don’t want to discourage them, because I know that with the type of trainings they have, they’re like a nurse — they can work anywhere, and they don’t have to go very far.”

Spencer said Debesis is budget-conscious, but has felt personally attacked.

“The issue that I think he’s trying to convey here,” Spencer said, “is that he has felt personally attacked because the message that is getting out there, whether it is intentional or not, they way it’s perceived, is that we have a commission, or a commissioner, that thinks he doesn’t know what he’s doing or is kind of putting that message out there that he’s being deceptive.”

Novak referenced a presentation by Randy Collett, Marion economic development director, and Anthony Roy, executive director of Hillsboro Development Corporation.

The pair said Marion County spends more on EMS than counties of comparative size and larger, nearby counties.

“Their budgets are not near like ours are,” Novak said. “They have this same full-time EMT. The numbers are like night and day.”

“Whether they run one unit, whether they run two units, we don’t know that,” Dallke said.

“Our pay is higher,” Debesis said. “That was to draw people here.”

Novak said she supports higher pay for EMTs, but not through overtime.

“When you talk about they pay less than what we pay, $15.50 for a paramedic, as far as I’m concerned, is too cheap,” Novak said. “I would have no issue, and I’ve said this many times, I would just as soon pay them $18, $19, $20 an hour but do away with that doggone massive amount of overtime.”

“You’re going to lose people,” Debesis said. “Here’s the thing, these guys live on this. I understand that. But what she doesn’t understand is I lived this for 25 years.

“These guys, you cut their overtime, they’ll go somewhere else where they’ll get the overtime.”

“Even if their pay’s up?” Dallke asked.

“I don’t know,” Debesis said. “It depends on where we’re at compared to what other people are paying.”

He said benefits are what cost the county.

“Dianne,” Debesis said with a sigh, “I’m gonna fight for my department.”

He invited her to talk with him about any issues in the future before using a “it’s not me, it’s you” style of argument to say he will run the best “business of EMS” for the county “at all cost.”

“It isn’t me not wanting to work with you, it’s me wanting to get you to understand this is the business of EMS,” he said. “I’m going to do what’s best for the county, at all cost.”

Debesis asked Novak if the county has ever paid him for 105 hours of work. Novak said he is salaried.

“I’m going to tell you what I did,” Debesis said, “I’m doing 40 hours because my feeling of your ungratefulness has caused that.”

“Oh sure,” Novak said.

“Hold on,” Debesis said. “I’m going to do my 40 hours, and if that means giving those guys overtime to cover my shifts, I’m going to do it.”

“That sounds exceedingly spiteful,” Novak said, before Debesis cut her off.

“That isn’t, it is not, it is not,” Debesis said, while talking over Novak.

She said she will fight for her constituents while doing her job as a financial overseer.

“I guess you and I are going to agree to disagree and I guess we are looking forward to a couple years of fights,” Novak said.

“I shake your hand on that,” Debesis said.

His presentation, which was the last scheduled item on the agenda, included totals on ambulance runs and the accounts receivable balance.

Yvonne Cushenbery, in open comments at the end of the meeting, addressed commissioners.

“I didn’t like the way this went on, at all,” she said. “That should not be happening. That is terrible to attack (Novak), and it shouldn’t be happening. And I think you guys should have stopped some of that.”

Last modified Aug. 31, 2017

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