NICEVILLE, Fla. (WKRG) — An hourly pay raise will be on some EMT and paramedics’ next paychecks in Okaloosa County.

The Board of County Commissioners (BCC) passed an immediate action on Nov. 1, bringing the starting hourly wage up from $18.17 per hour to $23.69 per hour for paramedics. For EMTs, it was raised from $14 per hour to $17.50 per hour.

EMT Relief pay is also being increased to $16.50 per hour and Paramedic Relief pay to $22.00 per hour, up from $14 and $18 per hour respectively.

Okalosoa County Press Release

“We were thankful that the county has finally recognized that they are not competitive with other areas and they are falling behind neighboring counties,” said Michael Marasco, national representative for the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics.

This increase will impact many of the current employees, but the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) says there is more to be done.

“It does do anything for long-term employees, who have been working there — and it creates more of a compression putting the new guy closer to someone with three, four years of experience,” Marasco said.

NAGE reports Okaloosa to be down almost 50 percent on paramedic staff and 15-20 percent on EMTs. “Your paramedics provide the advance life support care — being down 50 percent is scary,” Marasco said.

Patrick Maddox, director of public safety in Okaloosa County, said the minimum wage increase was one thing in a current contract with NAGE that the county could make a change on.

“The language commands that if we do have an increase with our starting pay for new employees that any employees that are impacted by that particular increase — meaning if they have commissary training or experience and the new minimum is more than what their current pay is — they must be brought up to that new minimum,” Maddox said.

In total, this move outside of legal discussions will cost the county $880,000. Negotiations will continue between the BCC and NAGE to compromise on more than just a wage increase for new employees.

“Pay, nightshift differentials, weekend differentials, trying to incentivize new recruits that they can train in house, trying to incentivize people to stay, it’s mostly around wages,” Marasco said.

“Those remaining folks are still a part of the negation process. So it doesn’t mean, ‘No, you’re not getting an increase — it means that the increase to come will be a part of the negation process,'” Maddox said.

Factors leading to this push — overworked employees during the COVID-19 pandemic and better wages in neighboring counties.

“We found that we were low compared to other areas, especially with some acute changes that had occurred in our sister counties such as Escambia County, Santa Rosa County,” said Maddox. “They were beginning to outpace us a bit in the manner that their minimum wages had risen above what our current pay scales were for EMTs and paramedics. So that gave us the opportunity for immediate improvement.”

There is no word on when a new agreement could be made. While the two sides of the table will meet again in December, the county is hiring EMS workers currently. To see a list of job opportunities, click here.

To learn more about NAGE, click here.