911 Board passes budget; dispatchers receive 3 percent raise

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   Members of the Elizabethton-Carter County 911 Board passed the organization's budget Tuesday afternoon to include a three percent pay increase for dispatchers. The raise brings dispatchers to a pay level consistent with other 911 Communication Centers in the region, according to 911 Interim Director, Glenna Morton.
   "We're the second lowest paying 911 center in the area," Morton said. "These people are dedicated, and they could easily go to any 911 center around here and make more money.
   "I'm asking for a raise for two reasons - employee loyalty, for one, and, second, for the amount of work load these people handle."
   As part of the $548,824 budget, the 911 Communications Center will also be leasing a new digital recorder to record emergency calls per state regulations. The budget included $4,000 for the leasing of a new recorder due to the fact that enough funds were not available to purchase one immediately.
   The recorder will burn 911 Communication Center recordings to a DVD rather than to a VHS tape the way the old system did. The old recording system was no longer functioning to meet the demands of the organization.
   According to Morton, the call load at the Communications Center has increased dramatically this year. "They handled approximately 70,000 calls last year," Morton said, adding that since the end of January, the Communications Center has already handled nearly 63,000 calls.
   Terry Arnold agreed with Morton that employee turnover is something to try to avoid when it comes to emergency dispatchers at the Communications Center. "What happens is we train them (at the county and city's expense) and then they go somewhere else to make more money," he said. "I'm like (Morton); I think they deserve the three percent."
   One member of the board, Jim Burrough, said the board should possibly consider ways to decrease the call load for dispatchers. Currently, 911 dispatchers work 12 hour shifts with two dispatchers on each shift and a third dispatcher who works from 2 to 10 p.m.
   "This was supposed to be E-911, for emergencies only. It's turned into a community dispatch," Burrough said, adding that Communications Center dispatchers often handle non-emergency traffic such as warrant checks, public works calls and information checks with the National Crime Information Center. "People call down to the Sheriff's Department and say, 'there's a drunk in the road', and the dispatcher down there tells them to call 911 instead of just dispatching an officer from there. They shouldn't do that."
   Morton told Burrough that state regulations prohibit calls dispatched that way. "You can't do it that way," she said. "It has to be on a recorded line, and the Sheriff's Department is not a recorded line."
   The budget passed, but not without dissent. Elizabethton City Manager Charles Stahl voted against the budget, explaining to board members that he was uneasy with the idea of balancing it using reserve funds which cannot be immediately replaced and could eventually deplete the reserve.
   Morton stated she also did not like the idea of pulling from the reserve fund in order to balance the budget. "I hope to not have to take money out of the fund balance next year, but, this year, I had no choice," she said.