Franklin County officials proposed a way for county dispatchers to gain more time off while providing an extra dispatcher for peak times.

Nick Robbins, the new Franklin County Emergency Communications director, said a 12-hour shift schedule would not only benefit the county, but also the dispatchers. He said the county spent more than $60,000 in overtime last year and with the current budget could save $15,000 through the end of the year.

“What we currently are budgeted for are three shifts of eight hour days to cover seven days a week,” Robbins told the Franklin County Board of Commissioners Monday in its study session. “For the last year and half, they have been running 12-hour shifts. They are working a 48-hours one week and 40 the next. It takes nine dispatchers as minimal staffing to do what they are currently scheduled to do. How are we going to sustain full staffing and hopefully not lose dispatchers.”

The proposal for the 12-hour shifts and the addition of a dispatch manager would give the center three dispatchers during the peak times, Robbins said. The dispatch center currently runs shifts of two dispatchers.

“We could use [the dispatch manager] to fill in if somebody calls in and not filling that with overtime,” Robbins said. “We have to keep the unbudgeted overtime down.”

Derek Brown, county administrator/counselor, said the new position would be a big asset to the dispatch center.

“One of the things that excites me about this dispatch manager position is not only does it make sense to have that position, but from a personnel standpoint. We have the perfect person to do that in Sarah [Peffley]. Sarah has been running dispatch for the last year. Nick does a lot of things well, but he is not a dispatcher. We need someone to manage [the dispatch center]. I need Nick to work with the advisory board to help mold and shape the policy that our dispatchers are going to abide by.

“I need somebody to get a handle on the budget and I would be the liaison between Franklin County Community Communications and the City of Ottawa and other entities. The budget provides for this and we still have that $15,000 surplus. It is an exciting move that creates upward mobility.”

Robbins said the 12-hour scheduling system is similar to what law enforcement agencies use.

“This schedule requires a minimum staffing of eight dispatchers,” he said. “We have the opportunity to schedule dispatchers up to a year in advance. When you apply for a job the first thing you care about is what you are going to make and the second is schedule. We need to establish a schedule we can maintain, build up to and help us with our budget.”

Robbins said all dispatch centers he talked to are having these type of problems.

“Dispatch is not a one size fits all,” he said. “We have to evaluate what we are. Most dispatchers our size work on [12-hour shifts]. The main [goal] for us is to have a great emergency communications center. To do that, we have to have a great staff. We have to come up with staffing that is going to be effective to cover what we need, plus be efficient enough to give our dispatchers the time they need to be with their families. We have a lot of great employees. Everyone I talked to is supportive of this. They liked to be scheduled out in advance.”

Rick Howard, commissioner and former law enforcement officer, said it is good to have a couple of people available to call upon when a dispatcher calls in sick, especially if they are working 12-hour shifts.

“There is no doubt dispatch is extremely stressful,” he said.

Robbins said another asset to the proposal is it allows the dispatchers a chance for advancement.

“We have to make sure we have something competitive to keep people,” he said. “It is tough to find people to do this job. It is a unique profession that we are lucky to have 10 talented individuals."