Citizen call: hire more 9-1-1 call takers with surplus funds

AUSTIN (KXAN) – A longtime municipal affairs activist and blogger is appealing to Austin City Council to immediately inject a million dollars from this year’s surplus city funds to hire call takers at the city’s cash-starved 9-1-1 center.

Bill Oakey posts at austinaffordability.com and spoke at a special Saturday Austin Citizens’ Forum at City Hall.

“Before the next budget session even begins, I would ask you to please transfer at least one million dollars to get some more staff in there to protect the public safety,” Oakey said also citing a KXAN Investigation from Wednesday.

Oakey suggested Council introduce an emergency budget amendment. Afterward he told KXAN’s Robert Maxwell that’s an action that could happen as soon as the next full Council meeting June 12th.

The first public Austin budget work session is set for July 31st when the City Manager’s Office will lay out its proposed budget options for fiscal year 2015 that begins in October.

The budget amendment Oakey said, could request the City Manager to direct some of the funds from the city’s recently-announced $14.2M undedicated budget surplus. He said that would show public safety workers elected leaders were keen “to help out that call center.”

Saturday, Council Member Kathie Tovo thanked Oakey for his suggestion and asked him no follow up questions. KXAN is also waiting for a response to individual emails sent this week to all Council Members, their senior staff and the City Manager’s Office requesting comment to our latest investigation.

The city’s 9-1-1 Center, a division of the Austin Police Department has 191 full time positions, a number that has remained unchanged for the two previous budget cycles, records show.

Police executives have opted to fund other staffing areas such as forensics and maintaining the Council-approved officer to-citizen ratio of two per 1000 population.

Austin’s Police Chief, Art Acevedo told KXAN in mid-April augmenting the number of civilian staff has not been the highest priority in recent years.

9-1-1 workers’ health questioned

Wednesday, KXAN revealed city records showing last year over the year before, three times the number of call takers and dispatchers maxed out their annual personal medical leave.450px-911sign

Retention rates are also a problem. It has been publicized turnover rates at Austin’s police call center are at one in five call takers and in one in four dispatchers. And it’s costing more than ever to find and train new hires thanks in part to stiffer state licensing regulations brought in this year, 9-1-1 staff have said.

This week’s KXAN Investigation also revealed an internal Communications Division proposal to fund as many as fifty 9-1-1 call center positions beginning this fiscal year that begins October and continuing over the following two years. It would include funds for training, long term support and administrative positions.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

A new public list of Unmet Service Demands from Austin Police for FY2015 shows the 9-1-1 issue may be rising in importance.
Recommended for the City Manager’s consideration:

  • $180,000 to fund a monthly stipend for 43 call taking and dispatch staff who also train new hires
  • $4M to hire 61 non-sworn (civilian) personnel. The request is split among 9-1-1 Call Takers, police dispatcher leads as well as staff for Records, Forensics and Victim Services among others.

Monday afternoon the City’s Public Safety Commission is due to meet. On its agenda: police budget requests. But one agenda document shows different numbers than those given to the City Manager and posted on the City’s site.

  • $80,000 for the call taker/dispatcher training stipend. No staff numbers are listed.
  • Added to the $4M above is a second request for $2.9M to fund 38 OTHER full time new civilian support positions “to support Department growth.” What those are is not specified.

Police executives were not available Saturday to explain the difference in the numbers.

 

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