The White Pine County Commission meeting last week had many commissioners displaying high emotions when it came to particular agenda items.
Contract negotiations with three attorneys who provide the service of public defender seemed to escalate quickly.
Richard Sears and Jane Eberhardy went before the commission. The contract was for Shain Manuele, Richard Sears and Jane Eberhardy.
Sears made it very clear that the three of them are not partners. They rent space out of the same building, they just thought that it would be a convenience of the commissioners to have them all under one contract.
Sears mentioned it has been three years since they have had a raise. Eberhardy told the commission that when they came before the commission last year to seek approval of a two-year contract they agreed in good will to come before the commission a year later, since the commission would have a better projection of the budget.
Chairman Richard Howe explained that the commission had discussed it and some thought 4 percent or 5 percent was equivalent compared to the 8 percent Sears, Eberyardy and Manuele were requesting so they sent over a counter offer of 5 percent.
Sears said, “We’re looking for 8 percent and I think it’s fair. If we don’t get what were looking for, were going to be out $20,000.”
Eberhardy included that each of their expenses vary by year, explaining that they pay employees, health insurance, malpractice insurance, rent on the building, “it’s not just us doing our job, it’s also all the expenses we have to do our job, legal research, Continuing Legal Education courses.”
Howe asked for input on the item, mentioning that the military hadn’t had a raise in over 10 years until now.
Sears said, “If you want us to go, we’ll go…thank you,” and he and Eberhardy left the meeting.
Howe asked the rest of the commission if they wanted to go to the 8 percent the three were requesting? Commissioner Steve Stork said, “I’m not sure what we just witnessed but was that not just rejection of the 5 percent?”
Commissioner Shane Bybee said, “In a town where we are so limited for attorneys do we want to be in the business of trying to hunt up somebody to fill his job for $14,000.
“There is nobody else to recruit for this position. I think to let them walk out the door over $15,000 is a foolish move.”
Bybee made the motion to approve the offer of 8 percent.
Perea seconded it and requested that before the next negotiations an analysis is completed to have two attorneys versus the three.
The vote was passed with a 4-1 with Stork voting against it.
The Fire District is on the agenda for every commission meeting. It appears as though the commission continually tries to make some headway on the interlocal agreement with the city, although it’s starting to appear there’s a lot of contention between the commissioners when it comes to this portion of the agenda.
The first item on the agenda, regarding the City of Ely’s offer to provide Fire/EMS Services to White Pine County for $174,000 annually.
Howe asked for input from the commission. Perea was first to speak, noting that looking at the county’s budgets, the city’s budgets, but local government all over the country, the amount of money that for protection services, safety services is taking a huge part of the county’s budget.
“There’s got to be something that changes, we can’t continue going on the way we’re going having two different systems, a city fire/EMS, a county/EMS, we really need to combine into one, for tax payers, and the costs, we just can’t go on,
“I’m against this, to giving the city $174,000, we need to solve this issue and get it solved once and for all.”
Howe agreed with Perea stating that he was against it as well. He went on to say the city and the county can work well on everything else except for when it comes to the fire issues.
“With what we have in place with both sides, it’s not going to happen, we keep beating our heads against the wall, the city to me, they want to take over our county fire with this amount of money, we have a fire district, the city is their own separate fire department, we continually battle.”
Howe went on saying that the issue is starting to divide the commission. “The tension, and the total attitude, some are for, some are against, and when we are a really good commission except for this, this is an item I cannot support.”
Commissioner Carol McKenzie also expressed her concerns with paying the city per call. “If we go into the city and do something for them, they don’t pay us, and it’s not fair it should be reciprocal.”
McKenzie said trying to get everybody to agree to the same thing has been impossible for over 20 years, and it hasn’t changed.
“I absolutely do not want to pay the City of Ely to do something for us, when we are doing it for free for them, “ McKenzie said.
Commissioner Stork expressed his frustrations with the issue. He said, “I think that some people speaking just demonstrated their ignorance on this whole subject. The people of the city of Ely are part of White Pine County, and while I’m out on a highway and I’m involved in an accident I want somebody to respond, far too often we respond with an inadequate force, their unable to take care of the job, and people are losing their lives.
“This is about taking care of people’s lives, it’s not about a turf war, it’s not about doing a job we were elected to do. I know this is going nowhere but it sickens me that we let our people die out on the highway because we want to continue playing this god damn game.”
The conversation seemed to escalate quickly with commissioners speaking over each other, in particular Stork and Howe.
Howe continued saying that he felt the fire department was handling these issues they best they could, but the point being made needed to become moot on any services with the city until they have on entity.
“I’ve been to both the city and you it is a turf war, in my opinion, and when you try to lean one way or the other, you offend the county fire and the city fire, and neither one will come to the table until we make them come to the table together.”
Stork said, “Ain’t nothing going to change, period.”
No action was taken.
The next agenda item was to discuss increasing pay for fire and EMS personnel. Elizabeth Frances, finance director, requested this item to be on the agenda.
“We took a look at what we pay our firefighters, compared to other entities such as the city, Elko, West Wendover, and looked at what their low side is and high side. And the reason this is coming up because we are having trouble recruiting.
“We are clearly behind the curve in what we are paying our firefighters.”
Howe noted the difference in pay between other fire departments across the state. “They’re making less than a McDonald’s employee, we have to keep them on a live able rate. It has been five years since they have had a raise. Our guys are working for nothing. We don’t need to pay them the same as others, but we have to make it a live able wage.” Howe said.
Much discussion went on about what percentage to increase the pay to, and whether it was possible in the budget.
District Attorney Michael Wheable suggested Frances come back with a pay scale for the next meeting, then at that time the commission can adopt a pay scale. This was agreed upon.