Dispatchers gone

St. C. lays off eight as 911 calls will go to county

Photo by Robert A. DeFrank
St. Clairsville will eliminate its local dispatchers and route calls through the Belmont County 911 system beginning later this month. Police Chief Jeff Henry discusses issues with Councilwoman Linda Jordan prior to the meeting.

Photo by Robert A. DeFrank St. Clairsville will eliminate its local dispatchers and route calls through the Belmont County 911 system beginning later this month. Police Chief Jeff Henry discusses issues with Councilwoman Linda Jordan prior to the meeting.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Eight city of St. Clairsville dispatchers will be laid off Christmas Eve, with all police calls to be directed to the Belmont County 911 Center, city officials announced Monday.

The move will eliminate two full-time and six part-time dispatcher positions, but will allow the city to hire an additional full-time police officer to patrol the streets, officials said.

The dispatchers’ last day will be Dec. 24, the end of the year’s final pay period. The Belmont County 911 system will be initiated Dec. 19, for a brief overlap of services.

“We expect a smooth transition,” said city Service and Safety Director James Zucal.

Zucal pointed out the costs of implementing effective in-house, full-time police dispatching services. Zucal said the yearly budget for the dispatchers was $200,000, while the cost of an additional officer with wages and benefits would be $80,000 to $85,000, for a savings of up to $120,000. Zucal said some new security cameras will be added in the police department, as well as a phone to call in to the county 911 dispatch.

“This change is an administrative decision that we feel is fiscally responsible, as it will provide a significant savings to the city’s general fund. For nearly a decade, this change has been discussed as a possible cost savings measure, since the Belmont County 911 system was already in existence and providing dispatching for fire and EMS. The city will now be taking advantage of the benefit and eliminating the duplication of these services, for which taxpayers already pay through the Belmont County 911 levy.”

Zucal said the new officer likely would be hired after the first of the year to work the night shift. St. Clairsville currently employs nine full-time officers, including the police chief.

“We have two shifts, a day shift and a night shift, and on that night shift that would be a complement of two officers,” Zucal said. “The administration feels that adding an additional officer will allow for two officers on each shift and provide additional safety for the officers as well as better service and safety for our

residents.”

St. Clairsville Police Chief Jeff Henry declined to comment late Monday, as did the dispatcher on duty. Officials at the county 911 center could not be reached for comment.

Zucal added that this will leave Martins Ferry as the sole major community in the county still utilizing local police

dispatching.

According to Zucal, the dispatchers handle an average of six to eight calls per day shift and three to four on night shift. The week of Thanksgiving saw 44 calls for police-related measures, including domestic issues, traffic citations, juvenile complaints, parking complaints, suspicious-person complaints, and vehicle accidents.

“Our numbers are down. … To have somebody employed for all night long for three or four calls doesn’t make sense,” Zucal said. “We had scheduling issues with our full-timers, so in turn we had to utilize part-time, so we’re having a duplication of services. If you couldn’t get a full-timer, you had to get two part-timers to cover one full-timer. … Sometimes those part-time people only work a portion of a shift.”

Mayor Terry Pugh added there have been occasions when a part-time dispatcher was unavailable, so one of the police officers would have to take on the dispatcher role.

“We want our police officers out serving our constituents,” Zucal said, adding the dispatchers have always done a satisfactory job. “It’s just the scheduling issue.”

Zucal added city leaders are confident in the ability of the county 911 dispatch to take on the city’s calls.

“They’re so well-trained and well-staffed,” Zucal said.

“They’re more familiar with what our dispatchers did than I could even imagine,” Pugh added. “They have three full-time dispatchers plus a supervisor, so in essence you have four dispatchers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Zucal said there are no other openings in the city for the terminated dispatchers. He said the city recommends they apply for positions with the county 911 department.

“That is unfortunate, but we feel this is a prudent decision on our part to be fiscally responsible (and) add another officer, added safety for the officers and the constituents,” Zucal said.

There was no public comment during Monday’s meeting.

Zucal said any questions about the change can be directed to him at 740-695-0156.

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