County Ambulance Department cuts budget request by $700k; Physician addresses complaints against leadership

(Lander, Wyo.) – On Tuesday, the Fremont County Commission continued to work with Fremont County Ambulance leadership on the budget and personnel issues, though little was said in public regarding the allegations levied a week ago.

In working with Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese, Ambulance Director Lauri Wempen submitted a new budget to the commission, reduced by about $700,000 from its earlier request. Earlier this budget season, the department had requested a budget nearly double the $2.1 million it currently utilizes.

The new budget request was decreased from more than $4 million to $3.33 million.

“I would not need a general fund transfer this year,” Wempen told the commission, addressing one of the board’s earlier concerns.

However, in order to provide the $1.2 million boost to her budget, she has proposed to use the department’s reserves. That would leave the reserve account at $125,000.

Commission Vice Chairman Travis Becker said he had concerns with the sustainability of the increase, noting that she might have to request money from the general fund next year.

“We need to address the sustainability of revenue,” Wempen said, agreeing. She said the commission could look at forming a special EMS District for levying property tax, get buy-in from municipalities or increase service fees,

Wempen said the new budget addressing staffing needs, including paying volunteer ambulance drivers $8 an hour. She has proposed in her budget to create 25 full-time positions from existing part-timers. Part of the reason for this is to be able to provide health insurance, as will soon be federally mandated.

The increase to full time was part of her original request, and the commissioners wanted to be sure her part-time staff would be interested in the change. So Wempen had her staff fill out an anonymous online survey. In the survey 70.7 percent (29 of 41) said they would apply for the full-time positions. Of those who said yes, 51.5 percent would have single insurance.

When proposing an entry level package of $58,714 for EMT-1, $61,197 for EMT-P and $50,999 for EMT-B (including insurance), 30 of 38 said they would apply for a full-time position. Twenty-five of the respondents are certified EMT-B.

“I’m just not quite sold on the budget,” Becker said. “I’m not quite sure how to address it. It’s busted the budget.”

He and Chairman Doug Thompson said more should be done work on improving volunteer participation to avoid paying for more full-time employees.

“I do appreciate the reduction to the request,” Thompson said. “I appreciate the effort to bring it down.”

Earlier in the day, the commission held an executive session with Wempen and Division Coordinator Todd Smith for 80 minutes to discuss personnel. Neither the commission, nor the Ambulance staff, discussed the matter further in the public portion of the meeting. However, Dr. Aaron Billin, a Riverton physician for the EMS service in the northern portion of the county spoke briefly to the governing body during the its lunch break.

Billin spoke primarily to the improvements that the leadership has brought to the program. “I have seen a tremendous elevation of pre-hospital care provided by the county,” he said.

He said the improvements to training and equipment has saved lived. “Heart attacks can be diagnosed 30 minutes before they arrive at the hospital,” he said.

“I am not personally involved in any of these allegations,” Billin said, adding he believes they have been “appropriately handled by leadership.”

“If I were to sum up, I think we have a group of people who like doing it their way,” he continued. Billin said those lodging complaints are “resistant to improvement and change” and “refused to follow protocols. … That becomes a liability for the county.”

Thompson said part of the struggle the department has is getting people with more advanced training to the deeper parts of the county. Billin agreed that its a challenge. “Most problems come from people who refuse to act within their level of certification,” he said.

Read about the complaints made about the department’s leadership here.