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Sheriff warns county dispatch on verge of collapse, says Obama's stimulus could help
Sheriff warns county dispatch on verge of collapse, says Obama's stimulus could help

Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall responds to comments by Sheriff J.B. King warning that the dispatch unit could collapse if more people aren't hired soon.
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (March 16, 2009) — Sheriff J.B. King warned county commissioners Monday morning that he may soon be forced to turn dispatching over to the Pulaski County 911 Center.

While some have advocated that step as a way to save money, both King and his predecessor, Sheriff J.T. Roberts, strongly opposed it. Asked for a cost estimate, King said he’s been told by Pulaski County 911 Director Michelle Graves that the county would have to pay about $60,000 per year for 911 personnel to handle the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System terminal that’s currently maintained by the sheriff’s dispatchers. In addition, King warned that his jailers consider it an unacceptable risk to be left alone in the courthouse with more than two dozen inmates.

Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall took exception to language in a report presented by King stating that “the 2009 budget process cut the staff for the sheriff’s office dispatch unit to four employees.”

That’s not correct, Ransdall said.

“We didn’t cut your dispatchers,” Ransdall said. “I don’t want anybody to misunderstand that we had to lay people off or cut; if my memory serves me right, you thought you could do it with what you have.”

King said that while he agreed to the personnel cuts as a way to balance the budget, he now believes it won’t work.

“The basic problem is the hours are accumulating as we go. We had an unfortunate confluence with one dispatcher taking vacation and another dispatcher getting sick at the same time which led to this problem,” King said. “At this point it looks as if the dispatch unit may collapse and then we will have to go to the 911 center.”

King provided more detail in his written report.

According to the report, one dispatcher took a 12-day vacation during the most recent pay period from March 1 to March 14 which left only three dispatchers who had to man the office 24 hours per day for those 12 days, splitting a total of 288 hours between three dispatchers and requiring each to work 96 rather than 80 hours for a minimum of 16 hours of overtime for each dispatcher. That situation would have been difficult enough, but then another dispatcher became sick and had to take time off work, leaving only two dispatchers to run the office 24 hours per day.

“The bottom line is as follows: The dispatcher who got sick finished the pay period with 13.5 overtime hours. The two dispatchers that the burden fell upon finished with 54.38 and 55.13 hours of overtime,” King wrote. “This accumulation of unnecessary overtime will continue to occur every time a member of the dispatch staff takes sick leave, vacation, or is sent to required training. The only way to stop this drain on the county finance will be to hire at least two, preferably three, additional full time dispatchers. The approval to hire the new people will have to be done quickly.”

Matters will soon get even worse, King warned. One county dispatcher has accepted a higher-paying job with the St. Robert dispatch center and will leave on March 21; another dispatcher is undergoing background checks to become a Missouri State Highway Patrol dispatcher and is expected to leave within 45 days.

“That will leave two dispatchers to train and supervise the new hires. The sheriff’s office dispatch unit will be on the brink of collapse during that training period and excessive overtime hours will be accumulated,” King warned. “If you fail to act quickly then the dispatch unit will most likely collapse and the MULES function will have to transfer to the 911 Communication Center.”

If the dispatchers are no longer performing dispatching functions, the county would still have to hire people to provide backup for the jailers, answer telephone calls, and handle visitors to the front door, King said; the only alternatives would be to double the number of jailers or pull deputies off road duty to stay in the office and watch the jail, thus cutting in half the number of deputies available to answer calls from citizens.

“Since we also lost two deputy positions during the 2009 budget we are short on road deputies and this could lead to a shift were the only deputy on duty has to stay with the jail staff. There would be nobody to respond to a call,” King wrote. “If we are going to face these types of problems it would be much better to simply increase the needed resources for a successful and smart dispatch operation and continue the current status quo.”

Asked by commissioners to propose a solution, King said President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package may provide an option to hire new deputies, provided that the county is willing to pay the salary for the additional deputies four years from now.

“As part of the stimulus program they have put out a grant that they will pay 100 percent for three years and the county would have to pick up the cost for only one year,” King said. “It appears the emphasis will get put on filling unfunded vacancies or people who have been lost.”

King noted that from what he’s read so far, the grant would only allow him to hire additional commissioned officers and might not allow him to hire new jailers or new dispatchers. However, King said it may be possible for him to put officers through a training program in which they serve a specified period of time working as dispatchers and as jailers before they go on the road to work as deputies.

Ransdall said he agreed that the terms of Obama’s stimulus package appear to be designed for departments such as the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department that are at risk of losing law enforcement officers.

“This could be a godsend,” Ransdall said. “You already know that in December you made the recommendations to leave those positions vacant to balance the budget.”

Ransdall urged King to use the services of the Meramec Regional Planning Commission to make sure the grant application meets federal standards.

Ransdall also asked King to contact the Phelps County sheriff, who Ransdall said due to personal relationships with Pulaski County residents may be willing to help solve Pulaski County’s problems with aging patrol cars.

“I think two or three of those cars could be yours if you talk to him, and at a very reasonable price,” Ransdall said.

In other business:

• Commissioner Bill Farnham said he’s continuing to do work on the Jones Creek Bridge, which turned out to be in worse condition than he expected.

“The bridge floor was so undermined in some places that it was like two slabs (of concrete) were poured next to each other,” Farnham said.

• County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer said she’ll attend an upcoming March 25 insurance consortium meeting on behalf of the county.

Click here to read Sheriff King's dispatch overtime report

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