After a thorough examination of their 2014 budget, some Jefferson County legislators found the revenue necessary to hire a new 911 dispatcher six months earlier than previously decided.
Members of the Finance and Rules Committee announced Monday that theyve identified an additional $27,125 to hire a dispatcher by Jan. 1. The County Board of Legislators voted last month to approve the 2014 budget, which included funding for a dispatcher to be hired July 1.
Joseph D. Plummer, director of the Jefferson County Office of Fire & Emergency Management, urged legislators to hire three additional dispatchers. He joined other representatives of the agency in detailing the problems caused by a lack of adequate staffing.
Legislators did not want to override the states 2 percent property tax cap, a move they thought would be necessary to add three dispatchers to the 2014 budget. But at the same time, the county could well have spent at least $210,000 next year in overtime costs for the Office of Fire & Emergency Management because of the need for more personnel.
If approved by the County Board, the new dispatcher will not make much of an impact immediately. It takes six months to fully train a 911 dispatcher, so the modest relief will come in mid-year at the earliest.
It would have been better had legislators found a way to hire the three dispatchers as soon as possible. This would have added one dispatcher for each of the 911 centers three daily shifts.
But some relief is better than none, and its good that members of the Finance and Rules Committee went back over the budget to see where the extra funds could come from to hire a dispatcher in January. As the previous plan was to hire the dispatcher in July, providing help with staffing would not have come until toward the end of next year when training time is factored into the equation.
The 911 dispatchers confront the most serious circumstances of any county employee other than a sheriffs deputy. They need to focus on offering the best information they can in a reassuring manner.
They dont need to come into work every day feeling like theyre going to become besieged while communicating with residents during emergencies. The added strain has the potential of leading to mistakes on the part of the dispatchers, and this cannot be allowed to happen. They are often dealing with life-and-death situations, and how they respond makes all the difference in the world.
Legislator Michael W. Behling, R-Adams, led a faction of board members in pushing the county to hire three dispatchers. Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, who chairs the Finance and Rules Committee, came up with the compromise of hiring one dispatcher in January.
Its not an ideal solution, but its one that will offer some help sooner than anticipated. The County Board should take the committees recommendation and adjust the 2014 budget to reflect this change. Then, more dispatchers should be brought on board as soon as the financial resources can be identified.