August 12, 2004

Proposed Price Hike Has City Mulling Options For Dispatching

A 100-percent price increase in the cost of law enforcement dispatching has the City of Memphis considering other options.

At the August 5 meeting the Memphis Board of Aldermen reviewed a report by Ki Reese of the Memphis Police Department regarding the addition of dispatching services through the MPD office.

The discussion was made necessary by a letter from the Scotland County Commission dated July 1 stating the county would be raising the price it charges the city for dispatching for the police department. The sheriff’s department currently provides the service for $1,250 per month, or $15,000 per year. The letter stated the rate would be increased to $30,000 per year and indicated a decision by the city would be required by September 1.

Reese stated that she would be able to answer the calls to the new line and dispatch the officers during her normal work hours of 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The city could then transfer all calls to the new line to the water plant, the only city facility manned 24-hours a day. The light plant employee on duty would be responsible for answering the calls and dispatching officers from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m. the following morning as well as all day on weekends and holidays.

“What if at 11 o’clock at night an officer puts out a radio call and is in trouble and the water plant employee is downstairs attending to his water plant duties,” asked alderman Ron Gardner. “What then?”

“That puts us (water plant employees) out on the limb and we don’t want that,” stated water superintendent Dennis Howard.

Reese stated that the sheriff’s department’s dispatcher should pickup any unanswered calls for dispatching. She indicated that Sheriff Wayne Winn had informed her that his office would make every effort to back up the city’s dispatchers in time of need.

Even with the emergency back-up Howard argues against the proposal for the water plant to handle after-hours dispatching.

“I did that job 9 ½ years ago,” he said. “I was there, working nights at the plant and there were plenty of times that’s all I did all night was dispatch for the police.”

Howard stated the service would be a distraction from the plant’s employees’ real duties for maintaining the city’s water supply. He pointed out that times have changed and that dispatching entails more responsibilities and thus more liability.

“This is an important job at the plant as everyone has to drink this water,” he said. “You just can’t dump everything on the water plant.”

Alderman Teresa Skinner assured Howard that the city was not trying to pawn the duties off on the department and definitely was not overlooking the significance of the dispatching job.

“We realize how important this service is and how important it is that officers get the calls as quickly as possible,” Skinner said. “But we have just been faced with a $15,000 expense and we must consider all our budget options.”

Alderman Ron Gardner suggested the city invite the county commissioners to attend the city’s budget meetings Monday, August 16 to discuss the issue. The council agreed to table any decision on the matter until the price hike could be discussed with the county.

Currently Scotland County provides dispatching services for the sheriff’s department and the fire department as well as the city police department.

County Clerk Betty Lodewegen stated the county budgeted approximately $75,000 in 2004 for dispatching. The service requires three full-time employees as well as a number of part-time workers to provide coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition to funds budgeted for payroll, the county also has expenses for training and supplies for the dispatchers.

The county has not raised the price on the service in 12 years and pointed out that while the new price is a significant increase, the city has actually received a significant bargain these past dozen years.

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