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August 12, 2020

6/30/2020 7:25:00 AM
Oneida County public safety approves hybrid dispatch position
Kayla Houp
Of the Lakeland Times

The Oneida County board's public safety committee took action earlier this month that, if ultimately approved by the full county board, will allow the sheriff's office to move forward with establishing a hybrid position for jailers and dispatchers.

The action came following an update from Oneida County Sheriff Grady Hartman and chief deputy Dan Hess June 18 regarding the need for additional dispatchers.

"I told you we were three dispatchers short and if we were a fourth dispatcher short, we'd be in full panic mode," Hartman said. "I explained that it's been very difficult to hire dispatchers and retaining them, for numerous reasons."

Hartman said part of the reason it was difficult to hire and retain dispatchers was due to the difficulty of the job and studies showed a "very small percentage of the population was able to perform dispatch duties.

"You've got to have a freakish ability to multi-task and the studies say 4% of the population even has the capability of doing the job," Hartman said. "And then you've got to be able to do it for the relatively low wages, weekends, holidays, etc., and that's lead to a problem with finding dispatchers to hire."

As a way to combat the shortage of dispatchers, Hartman said the sheriff's office tested their jailers to see if they could pass the test required to become a dispatcher.

"Of the 26 employees I have in the jail, only three of them could pass the test," he said. "Which, with the statistics I was telling you about, kind of makes sense."

Of those three, Hartman said one was currently interested in working in the dispatch center.



Hybrid position

Hartman brought an idea to the committee that would "provide some relief" to the dispatch center.



His idea is to create a hybrid jailer/dispatcher position that would be considered a Class H employee.

"What I would like you to consider, strongly consider, is making a new position with a jailer dispatcher dual certification role, where I can attract these few good jailers and have them be dispatchers and put them where I need them," Hartman said. "So I would ask you make that a Class H instead of the G where they're at, so we'd up the class a little bit for the ones that can do both the jobs."

He requested the committee authorize three employees in the hybrid position.

"Sheriff, you're looking to create a hybrid, basically, which would be somewhere in between the I and the G," committee member Billy Fried asked.

He continued, asking whether the employee's wage would remain consistent throughout the year regardless of whether they were working in the jail or the dispatch center and if that was going to cause a problem with other employees.

"I don't believe it will cause an issue," Hartman said. "I think overall, they're going to be fine with that."

"I think the committee will support you with the challenges you've had," Fried said. "I think we've said all along if we need to throw more money at it to attract good people to this very necessary position, I think the committee has always supported it.

"I think what this would do is give him that ace up his sleeve," committee chair Mike Timmons said. "If there's an illness or vacancies over here or over there, that they could bounce back and forth."



Classification and pay

Hartman further explained that the dispatcher, jailer, and tech support classified together as, despite their duties being different, he felt that they were similar enough for them to be in the same classification.

"This is not the first time we've had this," Hess said.

"It really gave the sheriff an opportunity to move those people around when they were short in different positions."

The position, he said, should be paid accordingly with regard to "knowledge, skills and abilities" and a person being able to perform in those positions.

"You have to be certified as a corrections officer and maintain that certification, and keep all your certifications as a telecommunicator," Hess said.

Fried commended Hartman for his "out of the box" thinking.

"I think in this day and age where you have these demands but don't have the supply of people interested in it, it would be great to open that up to whoever would qualify so that you have as many tools in the toolbox to meet this challenge," he said.

"I'd like to back pay the person that moved over, I'd like to back pay the wage we come up with, I'd like to back pay her hours," Hartman said. "Because I couldn't bring it forward at the time, because of COVID stuff."

He added there was a chance one of the other two jailers who passed the test would also be interested in working in dispatch.

"Money to pay ... are you going to take it out of your budget?" Fried began to ask.

"No, you guys are going to pay for it in the budget," Hartman said. "This year, we will, but the one thing I've been trying to give you guys is the perspective with your efficiency study.

He pointed out in the study, the 911 center was the number one item out of 281.

"So, I think you guys, in 2021, gotta fund it," Hartman said.

A motion to recommend creation of the hybrid jailer/911 dispatcher position was approved unanimously. It will now go to the full county board for consideration and possible approval in August.

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at kaylah@lakelandtimes.com.





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