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Jefferson County committee endorses compromise on dispatcher issue

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A committee of Jefferson County legislators on Monday endorsed hiring one additional 911 dispatcher sooner than planned to help handle the county’s heavy call volume.

The county budget that legislators had adopted for 2014 already included funding to start the new position in July. The Finance and Rules Committee decided Monday to come up with the additional $27,000 needed to fund the position as of Jan. 1.

The vote was a compromise between legislators who wanted to see additional dispatchers hired to reduce a reported growth in overtime at the dispatch center and those who did not want to override the state’s property tax cap or spend fund balance to hire the new employees.

During their full board meeting in November, legislators voted to adopt the 2014 budget, which included money to hire a new dispatcher in July.

After lobbying from Fire and Emergency Management Director Joseph D. Plummer and dispatch employees, a small faction of legislators, led by Michael W. Behling, R-Adams, became determined to see three dispatchers hired, one for each of the three daily shifts at the center.

During the November meeting, Mr. Behling proposed that legislators portion off small amounts of money from other departments to cover the cost of the three dispatchers.

The board voted to adopt the budget at that meeting, with the promise it would revisit the dispatcher issue at a later date.

The Finance and Rules Committee included elements of Mr. Behling’s proposal in its resolution Monday.

However, committee Chairman Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, told legislators that there was not nearly enough extra money in the budget to cover the more than $160,000 it would cost to hire three dispatchers at an individual salary of $54,250.

Instead, he proposed that the board take money from 14 other line items to come up with the $27,125 it would cost to start the position in January instead of July.

After the meeting, senior dispatcher Gail M. Sovie said that she was grateful that the board added one position but that she and her fellow employees would continue asking for more employees at the dispatch center. The center is receiving a increase in 911 calls, in part because of the prevalence of cellphones.

“We certainly appreciate the one employee, but we are a 24/7 operation and unfortunately one person isn’t going to make enough of a difference for the relief we’ve been seeking,” Mrs. Sovie said.

Mr. Plummer said that because of the Civil Service hiring process, the department will not be able to add a dispatcher on or near Jan. 1.

The department will add an employee sometime in the first quarter, Mr. Plummer said.

“Anything will help,” Mr. Plummer said. “Is it fixing the dam completely? No. But it will help.”

In the meantime, Mr. Plummer said he will work with county administrators to identify high-call-volume times of the day and determine staff levels accordingly.

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