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Salem panel seeks more fringe benefits for dispatchers

SALEM — City council’s Finance Committee is recommending vacation days and holiday pay for 36-hour permanent part-time dispatchers in an effort to keep them from leaving.

“This is a way of showing we appreciate them,” city Auditor Betty Brothers said.

The additional perks are outlined in a proposed adjustment to the fringe benefits ordinance for non-represented employees. The Finance Committee agreed unanimously to forward the legislation to city council for consideration.

City council held first reading. Two more readings will be required for passage.

Brothers explained that the police department keeps losing dispatchers. In recent years, the administration and city council members have tried ways to improve the situation for dispatchers, such as increased wages and making three 36-hour permanent part-time (considered full-time) positions.

The newest proposal calls for two weeks paid vacation after a year, same as anyone else would receive, along with 10 paid holidays for the 36-hour permanent part-time dispatchers.

“We’re trying to create a career to where it’s something they can build on,” she said.

Brothers noted that police dispatchers have one of the most important positions in the city. There’s more to it than just answering the phone and dispatching officers or firefighters to a call. They’re required to have 40 hours of training before they can even sit in the chair to answer calls, including 911 calls. The training is covered by funds through the Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency and includes emergency medical dispatch.

There are currently four people in training to be dispatchers. Besides the three 36-hour dispatchers, they also rely on some 20-hour part-time dispatchers and substitutes. If no one is available, police officers have to fill-in, which costs a lot more.

“It’s a demanding job,” Mayor John Berlin said.

He told the committee there have been discussions about countywide dispatching, but that’s years down the road if it happens at all. He said they’re just trying to find the right combination of benefits so dispatchers will stay.

Councilman Andrew Null, who chairs the Finance Committee, asked what doesn’t come with the 36-hour position as opposed to 40 hours a week, which is typical full-time hours. The positions are not union positions.

Councilman Jake Gano asked if exit interviews were done with dispatchers. Brothers said the consensus was that there was nothing for them to work towards.

“That person behind the phone is very important. Their job is just as important as everybody else’s in the field,” Councilman Bob Merry said.

Dispatchers serve as the lifeline to police officers and firefighters when they go to a scene.

Brothers answered a question from Gano and said the additional fringe benefits will cost the city an additional $22,000 per year.

In another police matter, the committee also recommended a raise for the part-time police secretary from $14.01 per hour to $15.46 per hour due to increased duties which will include working with the evidence room technician to confirm evidence is properly identified, to do followup on cases containing evidence and preparing destruction orders and getting familiar with the video server to provide body worn and in-car video to the prosecutor’s office and public records requests.

The secretary already handles police records and storage and destruction of records, the city’s alarm program, working with area courts, accurate filing of domestic violence cases with the state and background checks. The secretary works 28 hours per week in a position that used to be full-time. There was a layoff, then the position was purposely left vacant, before the secretary was brought back part-time.

City council held first reading on the wage ordinance, with two more readings required for passage.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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