EMS salary review to cost county $900

An independent review of a mix-up involving EMS salaries will cost Sedgwick County about $900.

Commissioners Kelly Parks and Karl Peterjohn requested this summer that the county's outside auditor, Allen, Gibbs & Houlik, look deeper into a discrepancy dating back to 2007 in the way EMS salaries had been calculated. They asked for the review without consulting other commissioners and without a public vote to do so.

Parks and Peterjohn said in July that they thought the work would fall under the county's regular contract with the firm. Allen, Gibbs & Houlik conducts an annual audit for the county.

The review of EMS salaries was outside the scope of that contract.

County staff discovered earlier this year that personnel costs for EMS salaries were being calculated at a work week of 40 hours. EMS staff work 42 hours a week. Instead of calculating their salaries based on 2,184 hours annually, the county was budgeting salaries based on 2,080 hours. Paramedics got paid what they were supposed to, but it cost the county more than was budgeted.

No one noticed the problem because savings from staff turnover absorbed the extra hours. But this year, turnover is low, so the cost of the extra hours became noticeable.

Chief Financial Officer Chris Chronis and his staff have estimated that personnel expenses for EMS workers will be more than $300,000 higher than budgeted for this year.

Peterjohn said the expense, which required the county to re-publish its budget, was high enough to justify a review.

"We had been told that the accounting firm works for the commissioners, not for county staff," Peterjohn said, adding that he and Parks did not anticipate an additional cost.

"I had expected this to be more or less routine," he said.

Commissioner Dave Unruh expressed frustration at the time of the review that Parks and Peterjohn had not talked to him or Commissioners Tim Norton and Gwen Welshimer before requesting it.

He reiterated that position Monday.

"I think we have to follow what's the required procedures," Unruh said. "If you're going to do something that commits public funds, we need to have a discussion and have at least three commissioners agree on it."

Under state law, county commissioners are supposed to conduct business as a board. Individual members can't bind the county to contracts.

In a July 6 letter to Peterjohn, an auditor with the firm wrote that "the error appears to be an isolated incident and is not a systemic problem."