Saratoga PD preparing for dispatch shortage

Chief Mike Morris informs Saratoga Town Council of proposed emergency MOU with Carbon County Sheriff’s Office

The same struggle of employee shortages plaguing emergency call centers around the nation will also soon impact the Saratoga Police Department, which already has a small staff of dispatch workers.

At the November 7 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council, Chief Mike Morris told the council that he would soon be down to only two full-time dispatchers. The typical amount of dispatch staff for his department is four full-time employees.

Dispatch Shortage

“We’re running into a little bit of an issue with staffing in the police department. Of course, we’re down a couple of officers right now and, as of the 19th (of November), we will be down two full-time dispatchers,” said Morris. “We only have a department with four full-time dispatchers, so being able to go through and run a 24/7/365 facility that we’ve got is going to be virtually impossible with two employees.”

According to a recent article from AP News (“911 workers say centers are understaffed, struggling to hire and plagued by burnout,” July 25, 2023), emergency call centers across the country are becoming short staffed. The article cited a poll conducted by the National Emergency Number Association which polled around 850 workers from call centers across the country. It does not appear that the problems plaguing other emergency call centers are the same being felt by the Saratoga Police Department, as one of the former full-time dispatchers was Jenn Anderson who was recently hired as the new town clerk for the Town of Saratoga. Morris did not go into detail as to why the second dispatcher was leaving the department.

“Hiring has been difficult. I do have two folks that we’re looking at for full-time employees right now and I’ve got a couple that we’re looking at for part-time employees, too,” said Morris. “Hopefully as we go through the hiring process, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.”

Even for dispatchers, that hiring process can be extensive and includes, among other things, psychological evaluations. This would likely prolong the hiring process. Morris, however, presented a stop-gap measure to keep the dispatch for the Saratoga Police Department at least partially staffed and operational.

Emergency Dispatch MOU

“I have reached out to Sheriff (Alex) Bakken to see if he could help us in that regard. Originally, it was discussed that maybe we could get the equipment and the availability if we could actually have the sheriff’s office dispatch from the sheriff’s office in Rawlins. There is the ability to do that with equipment,” said Morris. “That, in and of itself, would cost about $20,000 to do but it would take a period of time. Sheriff Bakken and I sat down and came up with a short-term solution. They have drafted an emergency dispatch memorandum of understanding. (Legal counsel) Kylie (Waldrip) has actually got that at this point in time.”

With the possibility of allowing a dispatcher to remote into the Saratoga Police Department’s system currently off the table, Morris said the other option was for the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office to allow a dispatcher to work on-site in Saratoga for a short-term period. The emergency memorandum of understanding (MOU) would allow the sheriff’s office to loan out a dispatcher for, at least, a 60 day period while the Saratoga Police Department searched for new employees.

“Their schedule right now runs four days on, two days off in eight-hour shifts. Our schedule, up until now, has been 12 hour shifts so that’s why we’re able to do it with four people,” said Morris. “Going forward, we would change that schedule. We would at least go to eight hour shifts in set schedules for a period of time. Having the sheriff’s office dispatch for us or having a dispatcher on site here comes at a price.”

That price would be $75 per hour, which Morris said includes the expenses borne by the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office for payroll and other payroll expenses such as employee benefits. The chief said he estimated that was about what it currently costs the Town of Saratoga to hire and maintain a dispatch employee. Morris said, with the help of Town Clerk Corina Daley, estimated the base salary for a dispatcher from the sheriff’s office for a 12 week period would be $33,600. The chief said he also built in some overtime at 25 hours, which came to $3,125 for a total salary of $36,725.

“We would have our own employee wages that we’d have to do and we’d still have to cover some shifts. On top of that, if we get our new people hired then we’d also be in a position where we would have to have two people working together. There would be a training period we would have to do,” said Morris. “At the end of this 12 weeks, if we’d have to go that long, we’re looking at around $60,000. We’re still looking at money for this.”

Some of the sources for funding for the emergency dispatcher from the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office included different impact funds received by the Town of Saratoga and reserve accounts. Morris’ department took a hit last month in the payroll department for dispatch when it was discovered four employees had not been paid properly for overtime worked over a two year period. The total overtime paid back was just over $8,000.

In A Bad Way

“I’m not asking tonight, since we don’t have a memorandum of understanding to even sign yet. I did just want to let the council and everybody else know where we’re headed right now. We’re in a little bit of a pickle,” said Morris. “There may be some light at the end of the tunnel with getting some folks on board, but we’re kind of in a bad way employee-wise right now.”

Morris said there were other factors which appeared to be impacting the hiring of new dispatch employees. One of the bigger issues was that of housing, which has been an issue for local businesses and the Town of Saratoga since at least August 2021. Another issue is the 12 hour shifts which have been worked by dispatch employees for the past few years, which Morris said isn’t appealing to prospective new hires.

“The shift work is not appealing. Going forward, the ability to maybe stick with an eight hour shift or a shorter shift might be an option,” said Morris. “In this day and age, I think an employer has to be fairly flexible as to some of those things. I do think employers need to be a little bit more flexible, particularly when it comes to time off. The younger generation thinks a lot more of having that time off than I did. The younger generations really do focus a lot more on a balance between their work and their home life.”

Still looking for officers

Morris also told the council he is still looking for officers for the Saratoga Police Department. While the department hired Sergeant John Moore earlier this year, Sergeant Tyler Christen joined the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office as the school resource officer for Carbon County School District No. 2 and Officer Glen Casner passed away earlier this year.

“Finding an officer has been a little bit more of a struggle. We’ll start reaching out a little bit more nationally. I’ve been doing a lot more word of mouth, reaching out to folks I know in other departments particularly along the Front Range,” said Morris. ““I think we’re a little bit sheltered from it here, but nationally law enforcement is one of those professions that is kind of looked down on in some respects. I think we’re sheltered from that, I think we’ve got a pretty good working relationship with the public and I think that level of respect is still there, both the department for the public and the public for the department.”

When attempting to hire officers, Morris said the struggle didn’t seem to be with the officers themselves who may be avid outdoorsmen. The issue was often with the significant other, who may be looking for somewhere closer to more amenities beyond outdoor recreation.

Combined Dispatch? Not Yet

With the discussion regarding a staffing shortage, Councilmember Kathy Beck asked if the Town of Saratoga should consider combining the dispatch of the Saratoga Police Department with the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office.

“I know we value the people we have in those positions, but is there any longevity in this?” asked Beck. “Are we going to be looking at this situation where we’re needing a workforce year-after-year?”

Morris said it was something his department and the Town of Saratoga could do, as far as a cost benefit analysis. He cautioned the council, however, that it wouldn’t likely be a cost-saving measure either way. The chief cited an MOU presented last year by former sheriff Archie Roybal which would have seen dispatch serves handed over to the Carbon County Sheriff’s Office.

“At that point in time, the cost of doing just that was $190,000,” said Morris. “Saving money is probably not the thing that’s going to happen in this endeavor, either way, because it is going to cost us one way or another. I don’t think personnel is where you’d see cost savings. Not only would we have the same number of communications folks, we’d have to have a hierarchy with a director overseeing them, we’d be maintaining the building and people to maintain the building. I think a lot of it would equal out.”

The next meeting of the Saratoga Town Council will be at 6 p.m. on November 21 at Saratoga Town Hall.

 

Saratoga Town Council At-A-Glance

Town Hall

  • Special Event Permit for Platte Valley Kiwanis Ice Skating Party - Approved
  • Proclamation for National Apprenticeship Week Proclamation Approved
  • Quality Code Publishing - Annual $1,245 Invoice Approved
  • Wyoming Community Gas Grant - $5,657.82
  • Will be split five equal ways: Ball fields, swimming pool, 4-H Shooting Sports, drama club, recreation department ($1,131.56)
  • Ordinance No. 868 - passed on 3rd reading
  • Mountain West Technologies Franchise Agreement - Tabled

Police Department

  • 227 calls between October 17 and November 7
  • 1,682 phone calls received/made, 61 emergency calls

Recreation Department

  • Sami Anderson, Jillian Jordan and Carter Edwards hired at $12 per hour for open gym supervisors
  • Currently open gym supervisors’ salary raised from $10 per hour to $12 per hour
  • Hootoon Tech LLC Quote for Control KeyFob Door System - $2,660.00 (Half from Recreation Department) - Tabled for further information

Department of Public Works

  • Motion to go to bid for Never Forget Park passes unanimously
  • Greater Road Project: Using $260,000 in impact funds for chip sealing, other impact funds could be used for additional chip sealing along with 6th Penny Tax Funds. Motion to proceed passes unanimously
  • Justin Peterson Storm Drain Agreement - Approved
  • Street Barricade Kits - $1,846.92 - Approved
  • $700,000 grant from State of Wyoming for Spring/River Street Water Line Project

 

 

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