NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 4, 2013

Dispatcher shortage strains police budget

Request OK'd for $9,451 transfer to cover holiday shifts, trainings

BY JENNIFER SOLIS
CORRESPONDENT

---- — WEST NEWBURY – A lack of qualified candidates to work full-time as public safety dispatchers in town is putting a strain on the department’s employees and its budget.

Police Chief Lisa Holmes told selectmen on Monday night that she would need a $9,451 reserve fund transfer to cover holiday shifts and mandatory training for the remainder of the year.

Last year, Holmes was able to return to the general fund money left over in the department’s overtime account. But this year, prior to the start of the fiscal year on July 1, the department lost two full-time dispatchers at about the same time, leaving only two full-time and 3 part-time dispatchers to cover the vacant shifts.

“As a result the overtime account was rapidly depleted,” Holmes said. Since that time, she has filled one of the vacancies, but after spending 4 months training another potential dispatcher, the candidate was let go because he was unable to do the job, Holmes said. She has advertised the position numerous times without success.

Compounding the scheduling nightmare, Holmes added that there are “currently two part-time dispatchers who work full-time at the regional dispatch center and due to the startup of the center they are unable to work shifts here.” The Essex County Regional Emergency Communication Center for police, fire and ambulance services is located in Middleton.

Also, Holmes recently learned that part-time dispatcher Blake Miller had accepted a police position in Virginia. Miller leaves for his new job later this month.

“We have been using just one part-time dispatcher and three full-time dispatchers to cover all the remaining open shifts, as well as their time off,” Holmes said.

Town Meeting voters appropriated $18,281 in the line item budget for dispatcher overtime wages. All dispatchers receive time-and-a half their regular pay when they work on holidays and full-timers get time-and-a half for attending training sessions.

The Finance Committee, who attended the meeting to discuss with Selectmen the upcoming budget process, unanimously approved Holmes’s request. The balance in the Reserve Fund was $57,000 prior to the vote.