Discussion Continues On Dispatch Staffing
The question of whether or not an additional full-time dispatcher is actually needed and is feasible or if part-time with pay differentials was the main topic of discussion at Tuesday’s weekly meeting of the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors.
Palo Alto County Sheriff Lynn Schultes was on hand to continue a discussion with the board of supervisors about information he had gathered regarding the possibility of creating a joint communication center with Emmet County. Schultes had contacted Sheriff Mike Martins from Emmet County with questions pertaining to Emmet County’s dispatch center operations, but had gotten no response as of meeting time.
“I think this would be a good time to get together with the Emmet County Board to discuss this issue further,” commented Supervisor Ed Noonan.
With a lack of information from Emmet County, Sheriff Schultes completed some research statewide on joint communications centers. “There is more to consider than what is just seen on the surface. There are many organizations involved with the communications center that will be impacted with joint communications centers,” Schultes said. “Not only are the technological issues important but also the personnel issues. I sent out emails to all 99 county sheriffs last year asking for their thoughts on joint county communication centers and 23 sheriffs responded with a definite “No” as their answer.”
The sheriff continued, “Much would be lost above and beyond the basic dispatcher responsibility.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Board Chair Craig Merrill.
“The biggest thing would be the individual benefits to the person who walks in off the street needing help,” Schultes said. “That would be lost. We have a lot of walk-in traffic at the Communications Center.”
The question was again raised as to what would be required, personnel-wise, to cover all the hours in dispatch.
“Four full-time operators would allow me to cover all but two shifts per week,” Schultes answered.
“If we were to work something out with Emmet County, could one center be open for 12 hours a day and the other center 12 hours a day?” Noonan asked.
“There would be lots of issues with that,” Schulte replied. “You’d have to switch the teletype, 9-1-1 phone lines, cell phone companies, and I don’t know if the cell companies would even consider that or how much they’d charge. There’d be a lot of issues to address with something like that.”
Schultes mentioned that the State’s Department of Public Safety, which oversees communications in the state, recommends feasibility studies for situations where a joint dispatch center is being considered.
“What does that study cost?” Noonan asked.
“A recent feasibility study cost the county that did it $45,000,” Schultes answered.
“This is a long term issue, which doesn’t address what you need. Right now the choices before us are hiring 2 full-time employees, a shift differential, and increase in part-time wages,” said Craig Merrill.
“The full-timers don’t leave, just the part-timers,” noted Schultes.
“When we train them and they leave soon after, do they have to pay back for the training,” asked Supervisor Ron Graettinger. “I think you should make them do that if they leave soon.”
“If I did that, I would have no applications,” stated Schultes.
“Do you do exit interviews to find out why these people are leaving,” asked Graettinger.
“I have not done exit interviews, but I have called past employees to find out what the factor was behind them leaving. It was mainly pay and hours,” Schultes replied. Many of our part-time dispatchers have full-time jobs and it gets to be too much.”
“Would paying part-time more than full-time help?” Noonan asked.
“I think more pay would help for part-time,” Schultes said, “Although it would have to be a significant amount.”
“If we share, we would have to bring a lot of people in such as fire and ambulance. We would be better off offering more pay to part-time employees,” said Linus Solberg.
“Would offering something like $4 more per hour for night shift and $2 per hour more for other shifts work?” Noonan asked.
“I would be willing to try it,” stated Schultes.
“At this time the prudent thing to do is to take a step back and look at the issues presented in more depth,” stated Merrill. “I recommend further investigation into the matter and revisiting it again next week.”
Schultes agreed with the board and will appear next week to continue the discussion.