Hard work pays off: Money increase due to dispatch staff shortage

Seymour police dispatchers will earn more money for working overtime as the department struggles to cover shifts.

Police Chief Bill Abbott received approval from the board of public works and safety Thursday to temporarily amend the city’s personnel policy to allow dispatchers to earn double the normal pay rate for working more than 40 hours per week.

Dispatchers and other hourly city employees earn time and a half for working overtime. The double time pay only will apply to dispatchers.

Abbott also has mandated all dispatchers work 12 hour shifts through at least the end of April to keep the dispatch center staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The shortage in dispatchers is due to two employees needing to be on long-term medical leave and a couple of new dispatchers who have not yet completed their training.

“Having had a history of not being able to retain dispatchers and because we continuously readjust their schedules, we’re scrambling to cover the shifts,” Abbott said.

Several scheduled vacation days for dispatchers had to be canceled at the end of last year due to being understaffed, Abbott said, and it was likely that no vacation time would be approved until May.

After discussing the situation with Assistant Police Chief Craig Hayes, the two decided offering double time pay for overtime was the best incentive.

The majority of dispatchers have at least two to three years experience, Abbott said.

“It’s an extremely skilled position,” he said. “The best thing I could come up with to compensate them for the continuous schedule adjustments and lack of a steady work schedule was to take their overtime rates from time and a half to double time.”

To be at full staff, Abbott said he needs to have 11 fully trained dispatchers available, but currently, that number is at eight and will be down to seven at the end of the month when one dispatcher goes on maternity leave.

“I have two still in training, but they won’t be ready for a couple of months,” Abbott said. “It seems like we hire four just to keep one.”

It takes about nine months for dispatchers to get used to the job, he added.

Mayor Craig Luedeman said he was concerned increasing the overtime rate for one group of employees and not another might cause problems but voted in favor of Abbot’s request due to the emergency nature of the dispatcher position and the need to keep the 911 dispatch center running at all times.

Abbott said the amendment would not require the city’s salary ordinance to be changed because it does not change employees’ regular hourly pay rate.

He also said he would not need an additional appropriation from the city’s general fund to pay the overtime because he has money available through the county 911 board.

“We get money from the 911 board every year, $75,000, and traditionally, I’ve put about half of that money into dispatch payroll for overtime and for part-time dispatchers, and the rest I use for equipment,” he said.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.