By LYDIA BAULER
Fostoria dispatcher jobs were spared by updates to this year’s five-year recovery plan after a contract renegotiation with the dispatchers’ union.
The city’s Financial Planning and Supervision Commission unanimously voted to adopt an updated recovery plan on March 7 that kept the dispatchers “in-house,” Mayor Eric Keckler said.
Fostoria was placed in fiscal emergency by the State Auditor’s Office in May of 2016, forcing the administration to get creative and craft a recovery plan aimed at balancing the budget by 2021.
One part of the plan called for axing local dispatch operations by July 1, 2017 and contracting with either Seneca, Hancock or Wood County. The move would have eliminated the remaining dispatcher positions.
The summer deadline passed without the expected lay-offs due to logistical issues, which made the move nearly impossible to complete on time, Keckler had said in June 2017.
Ultimately logistical issues and the cost of updating technology and software in order to be compatible with the county agencies made keeping local dispatchers — with concessions — the more cost-effective option, according to the mayor.
The move to keep local dispatchers rather than outsourcing to a county sheriff’s office dispatch center is expected to save the city a projected $110,000 over the five year recovery period, according to chief project manager Belinda Miller from State Auditor Dave Yost’s office.
After addressing compatibility issues and hiring additional personnel to transport prisoners between court and the jail, which is a duty performed by the city’s dispatchers, outsourcing with the “cheapest county” would have cost an estimated $1.48 million over the five years of recovery as opposed to an estimated $1.37 million while retaining the city’s dispatchers, said Miller.
The renegotiated contract with the dispatcher’s union additionally cuts costs by reducing the number of full-time dispatchers from four to three with some part-time positions, according to the Miller.
Further, the dispatchers made concessions, such as “picking up a greater portion of health insurance costs,” which is expected to lower the city’s spending on salary and benefits, Miller said.
“Last year they spent around $231,000 and they’ll probably spend around $181,000 this year so there’s an estimated $50,000 savings in salaries projected,” she said.
Miller said analysis of keeping the dispatchers at Fostoria Police Division considered other benefits as well, such as the constant presence of a liaison with the public.
“We also looked at some of the intangibles,” she said. “There’d be someone there 24/7 in the department so there would be actually someone there to assist people who come into the station. There will always be someone there.”
Fostoria Police Division Chief Kieth Loreno is pleased that the dispatchers union and city were able to work together in order to keep the city’s own 911 center, which does a lot for the community.
“I’m extremely elated,” said Loreno. “Obviously any community likes to maintain their own dispatcher center because they’re the first people the public speaks to. I’m very excited to be able to keep our dispatchers locals and I know the fire chief (Brian Herbert) is very pleased as well.
“The dispatchers certainly are a very important resource. They don’t just answer the phones, they’re the first face people see at the station and help point people to different resources in the community. It’s not always a police matter that people are coming in for, but our local dispatchers help connect people who are even just down on their luck to help through other organizations in the community. There’s a lot that the dispatchers do that people don’t realize.”
Fostoria Police Division recently announced on its Facebook page the city is hiring both full-time and part-time 911 dispatchers.
The department will hire one full-time and three part-time dispatchers to replace positions through attrition, according to Loreno. This means the department is not creating new positions but hiring dispatchers to replace personnel that left to take jobs elsewhere or retired.
Typical duties of the dispatchers will include operating telephone workstations to receive emergency and non-emergency calls; determining the type, location and extent of emergencies; inputting information from callers into the report management system; relaying information to appropriate personnel or other agencies; assisting callers with basic life support procedures; dispatching emergency equipment and personnel to scene and operating radio console; reading maps and giving directions to locations of incidents; and attending training sessions as required.
Applicants must be at least 18 years of age with a high school diploma or equivalencey. They must also be able to pass a background investigation and mandatory drug testing.