A tentative funding package is in place to ensure wages and benefits for 21 full-time dispatchers at Greene County 911 for the fiscal year beginning on July 1.
Members of the county board of directors discussed ways to pay for the 911 staff positions Tuesday.
Contributions by Greene County, the Town of Greeneville and the county’s three municipalities will likely be determined using a population-based formula, officials said.
The Greene County 911 fiscal year 2021-22 budget will likely be approved at the board’s next meeting on July 13.
The question of how to pay for 21 full-time dispatchers — the staffing level 911 Director Jerry Bird considers the minimum necessary to keep the vital emergency communications system functioning — has long been the topic of debate among board members and municipalities.
Bird said Tuesday that about $1.6 million is needed to pay for salaries and benefits for 21 full-time dispatchers. The overall tentative Greene County 911 budget for 2021-22 is about $2.1 million, according to figures provided to members of the board.
The 911 board includes five county commissioners and representatives from county first response agencies.
Bird said the state will provide $748,000 toward 911 operating expenses through the 911 surcharge fee assessed to those with cellphones and landlines.
In recent years, the county has allocated $120,000, with $40,000 provided by the Town of Greeneville. Tentative figures to pay for 21 full-time dispatchers in the upcoming budget year include $420,000 from the county and $217,000 from the Town of Greeneville.
Bird and county Attorney Roger Woolsey will contact the other three Greene County municipalities to request increased contributions over current figures. For the 2020-21 budget year ending on June 30, Baileyton allocated $1,152, Mosheim contributed $6,081 and Tusculum provided $7,250.
Greene County 911 is currently funded for 16 full-time dispatchers. Due to retirement and attrition, 911 will only have 13 full-time dispatchers as of July 1, Bird said. Efforts are being made to fill those positions as soon as possible, he said.
The emergency communications district has filled empty shift slots in recent months with part-time dispatchers, five of whom are off-duty Greeneville police officers and Greene County sheriff’s deputies, augmented by 911 supervisory personnel.
The current staffing situation means some full- and part-time dispatchers literally have no time off.
“We’ve got people who haven’t had a day off in two or three weeks,” said Tim Ward, 911 board chairman and Greeneville chief of police.
The situation is similar for full-time 911 staff, Bird said. He added that full- and part-time employees work together with scheduling issues whenever possible.
“They are doing a team effort and they are willing to help,” Bird said.
Ward said the arrangement may solve short-term situations, but he and other board members recognize the need for 911 workers to take some time off.
He likened the current staffing situation to “caulking a hole.”
“You got five (off-duty officers and deputies) that are working every minute of their free time,” Ward said.
Woolsey said mayors of the three other county municipalities want clarification about what a fair contribution amount would be.
According to population figures provided by Bird to the 911 board, Greene County has 48,596 residents. The Town of Greeneville population is 14,891. Populations of the three municipalities are 431 for the Town of Baileyton, 2,362 for the Town of Mosheim and 7,250 for the City of Tusculum.
“They all want to pay their fair share, but what is the fair share?” Woolsey asked.
Woolsey said that he received no useful guidance from the state on how to answer that question.
Other funding methods discussed are based on 911 call volume and what Woolsey termed the “complexity” of calls made from each area.
Bird said it is difficult to categorize calls coming into 911 by volume and type. Dispatchers routinely take 911 calls about medical emergencies, fires, wrecks, fire alarms, other emergencies and transport requests for Greene County-Greeneville EMS.
“There is no such thing as an average call, and I believe it,” board member and County Commissioner Robin Quillen said.
City Administrator Todd Smith said that the Greeneville Board of Mayor & Aldermen has agreed to fund $217,000 based on population.
“It’s about the most and best equitable way to do it,” he said.
County commissioners continue to explore all proposed funding methods but appear committed to providing $420,000 to keep 911 Dispatch running.
“From the county’s perspective, there is really no other easy way to measure (what each municipality pays),” Mayor Kevin Morrison said.
The proposed $420,000 contribution is not based on the population model. Morrison said the county also contributes to 911 Dispatch in other ways. Commissioners have not decided how many full-time dispatchers are required to keep 911 viable, Morrison added.
“That’s still a very fluid process as far as how many dispatchers they need to do the job,” he said after the board meeting.
“From a county perspective, it’s probably best to work up to that (21 dispatcher) bar and not overshoot the bar and have to come back,” he said. “We just want to make sure we have a maximization of the budget.”
Ward said the board can’t approve the Greene County 911 Dispatch budget until a public notice is advertised. Formal approval of a budget package should be addressed on July 13, he said.