In 2015, dispatchers handled 77,104 events that went through the central dispatch center. That increased to 91,780 in 2022 and the numbers continue to climb.
To help handle the burgeoning call load, and to allow the existing dispatchers to take breaks, days off and vacation days, the Kosciusko County Council on Thursday unanimously approved four new dispatchers for 2024.
Councilwoman Sue Ann Mitchell, who also sits on the county wage committee, told the other council members during their public budget hearing that the committee had approved for the four new dispatchers but because of a “series of unfortunate events,” they did not get entered into the 2024 budget. The overall cost for the four dispatchers is expected to be $369,580, which includes everything, she said.
Sheriff Jim Smith said, “Earlier this year, the sheriff’s office approached the wage committee and I was very frank with the wage committee that I was asking for four dispatchers, not in hopes to get two. I was asking for four because we needed four. For many years - I can’t speak to why - but the workload has increased for our dispatchers but personnel has not. ... Dispatchers have just been status quo for many years.”
He reminded the council that not too long ago they asked for an additional appropriation for dispatch overtime and they’re just burning through it.
“In addition to that, we’re burning out dispatchers because of working extra shifts and so on and so forth,” Smith stated. “I need to get them relief. They are doing a remarkable job, but they’re tired and they are worn out. By doing this, this is going to bring them that support and assistance that they need. Calls for service are not slowing down, they’re actually just getting worse. And we need them because every 9-1-1 call, every emergency we respond to starts right there in that 9-1-1 center. I full-heartedly believe that this is needed.”
Council President Mike Long asked if the four new hires would possibly eliminate most, if not all, of the overtime. Smith said it would put a really big dent in it, and would provide the shift minimum for dispatchers, but wouldn’t totally get rid of overtime.
Councilwoman Kathleen Groninger asked for any statistics they might have on the dispatch.
Chief Deputy Chris McKeand said the total number of events that the dispatch handled in 2015 was 77,104; and that increased to 91,780 in 2022.
“And that’s with the setup we have currently. It’s a three dispatch setup,” McKeand said. When a dispatch employee takes a week of vacation off, every one of the shifts have to be covered and that’s the reason for the overtime. “And if we don’t have those three people down there right now - we can’t keep up right now and that’s with the three people. If we add a person to each shift, it should magnify what we can do on a regular day greatly, but it will not put us in the pinch that we’re in almost weekly now.”
Smith talked about how dispatchers are trained to prioritize calls. Dispatchers take calls for many, many agencies, he said, including all the fire departments, EMS services and law enforcement.
While the pay is nice when they do get paid overtime, Smith said the dispatchers have families that are important to them and they want to be there for them. He also wants them to be well rested when they are on the job so they can be on top of their game when there are emergencies.
Councilwoman Joni Truex made a motion to approve the additional four dispatchers as recommended by the wage committee. Groninger seconded the motion and it passed 6-0.
The next issue the council had to clarify as part of its budget hearing was to increase the merit board members’ pay to $100 per meeting per member, Mitchell explained, to get it in line with the other county boards. There are five board members. The council approved the amount.
Mitchell then brought up that there had been some inquiries as to what public service entailed as the council approved at a previous meeting to give county employees a flat $2,000 raise for 2024 and law enforcement, dispatchers, work release and jailers a flat $5,000 raise as they deal more directly with the public.
She said there were some employees that, in some fashion, were serving in jobs that could qualify for the $5,000 raise. Those include a prosecutor investigator, court security and bailiff, home detention officers, Drug Court case managers, court security, JCAP coordinator, civil process servicer and the jail matron.
“Those would be the additional people that would be receiving $5,000, if you approve,” Mitchell said. “This is not something the wage committee addressed, but I think it’s something that needs to at least be thought about and looked at.”
Truex made the motion to approve the $5,000 raise for the list of job descriptions that Mitchell provided. Councilwoman Kimberly Cates seconded the motion.
Councilman Dave Wolkins asked if they knew what the additional cost would be. Since those employees were already getting the $2,000 flat increase for 2024, the additional cost would be $3,000 per person and Mitchell said there would be about 10 people, making the additional cost about $30,000.
Mitchell then gave a rundown of the proposed 2024 budget figures, before any reductions are made.
“For 2024, the general fund, the budget estimate is $27,391,724. We have to raise about $14 million of that through taxes. The assessed value estimate is $7,137,260,140 ... and that comes back to a rate of $0.19615 (per $100 of assessed valuation). And bear in mind, these are all high estimates on the budget ... and it’s also low estimate on revenue,” she said.
The health department 2024 budget estimate is $1,194,077, with the levy estimate of about $1 million and a rate of $0.01401. The cumulative bridge estimate is $1,095,000 with a levy estimate of $1.5 million and a rate of $0.02102. The reassessment fund budget estimate is $398,749, with a levy estimate of $600,000 and a rate of $0.00841. The cumulative capital development fund budget estimate is $2,443,500 with a levy estimated at $3 million and a rate advertised at $0.04203. Because the CCD rate is limited to $0.0333, Mitchell said they know that will be cut.
Just as a comparison, Mitchell said 2023’s rate was $0.2185 and she would not be surprised if the county landed very close to that. The 2022 rate was $0.2409.
“I think we will be quite fine and none of this will be decided until” the budgeting process is completed. “To be continued,” she said.
Cates said she thought Kosciusko County was one of the lowest percentage rates in the entire state.
The council approved accepting the budget presentation.
In non-budget-related action, the council approved:
• Emergency Management Director Kip Shuter to apply for a $20,000 hazardous materials emergency preparedness grant.
• Community Corrections to apply for a $10,000 Drug Court grant.
• Two transfers totaling $10,500 to the drainage board claims secretary and a salary ordinance amendment to move the secretary position from part time to full time at $19.29 per hour, as requested by Surveyor Mike Kissinger. The current secretary is retiring and Kissinger wants to hire a part-time person this year to be trained to take over the full-time position in 2024.
• An additional appropriation for $5,000 for deputy coroners and for $45,000 for x-ray and lab expenses, as requested by Coroner Tyler Huffer.
• Four transfers for the health department, totaling $14,000, to finish out the year in those accounts.
• The American Rescue Plan Act committee’s recommendation for $400,000 to be used toward the Sidney communication tower. The commissioners and ARPA committee previously approved the funds.
• Two transfers totaling $12,500 for the Circuit and Superior Court I for court-ordered services and meetings and travel expenses.