By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Despite funding shortfalls, Lee County E911 won’t adopt staff changes that could save an estimated $47,000 in overtime costs.
It was deemed too little savings for too much effort, according to Lee County E911 Director Paul Harkins, who said staff morale would suffer as a result.
But Tupelo Fire Chief Thomas Walker, who sits on the E911 Commission, said even small savings are important when public dollars are at stake.
“I understand that attitude in a private industry,” Walker said during a recent City Council work session, “but when I’m handed a budget, I need to make sure I can operate on this.”
The emergency response agency recently requested and received a nearly 60 percent overall funding increase from Lee County, its municipalities and the North Mississippi Medical Center for the services it provides.
That boosted those entities’ combined annual allocations to $500,000, but it’s expected to increase over the next few years to $750,000 to cover the rising costs of technology and personnel.
Lee County E911 has a team of dispatchers who provide emergency-related services to individuals, municipalities, law enforcement agencies, medical responders and organizations throughout the county.
It costs about $1.6 million annually to fund the operation, which gets a substantial portion of its revenue from telephone surcharges but also relies on contributions from the cities and county.
Those contributions, however, haven’t been enough to cover operating expenses. And E911 was dipping into its reserves to make ends meet, Harkins said.
Lee County E911 also wants to reduce expenses, which is why Harkins met with Walker to review personnel costs. Walker had adopted a new schedule for his firefighters in 2009 that saved the city an estimated $268,000 in overtime costs.
He proposed similar changes for E911, whose dispatchers work 12-hour shifts and rack up 36 hours one week and 48 hours the next. By law, they must receive overtime pay after exceeding 40 weekly hours. The new schedule would have altered the shifts and reduced the number of workers during certain hours.
“Logistically and scheduling-wise, it would have been a nightmare,” Harkins said. “And beyond that, it’s a morale problem. So, it’s probably not going to be worth it out of a $550,000 salary budget to only be $50,000 short.”