Tuesday, July 5, 2022

JCC supes discourage dispatch center merge, ask administrators to pursue alternate option

A James City County house sustained extensive damage after it caught fire in 2017. (WYDaily/Courtesy of James City County)
A James City County house sustained extensive damage after it caught fire in 2017. (WYDaily/Courtesy of James City County)

A presentation by emergency services officials Tuesday highlighted several challenges the current county dispatch center faces, and outlined possible solutions to the issues, such as a merger with nearby York County. 

The James City County Board of Supervisors heard a presentation about the county’s emergency services 911 system Tuesday — the most recent in a series of discussions centered around the county’s dispatch system.

“It’s not a reflection on their job performance at all,” County Administrator Scott Stevens said of county dispatchers and consideration of merging dispatch centers, adding providing the best services to residents is the ultimate goal.

The board put an emphasis on not consolidating with the York-Poquoson-Williamsburg Communications Center, instead asking staff to pursue an option that would update technology to work better with nearby localities.

Tuesday’s presentation by Fire Chief Ryan Ashe showed there are several challenges with the current system, including staffing, reliable connectivity to automatic aid partners, wireless call routing and transfers and technology upgrades.

The dispatch center has struggled with staffing, turnover and is currently operating at the minimum staffing levels, according to the presentation. There are 28 approved positions, but four are vacant.

Second, using different dispatch systems between James City County and nearby York County also means some crucial seconds are lost when the localities need to transfer a call to the other department. There are about 235 calls through 911 per month that are misrouted between James City County and the York-Poquoson-Williamsburg Communications Center.

Third, both the police records management system will eventually need to be upgraded, as well as the computer-aided dispatch system.

Solutions could include maintaining the standalone dispatch center in James City County, implementing a shared computer-aided dispatch system or consolidating with the York-Poquoson-Williamsburg Communications Center.

The county has developed a chart weighing the pros and cons of the several solutions. It takes both county officials’ opinions and dispatch staff opinions into consideration.

Moving forward, Ashe said he does not recommend maintaining a standalone emergency communications center in James City County because of the continued delays in emergency response.

Maintaining a standalone dispatch center in James City County and upgrading to a shared Motorola dispatch system with York County could help with response time delays. It could also involve adding more staff for about $350,000 and making building improvements in James City County for about $200,000.

Supervisor Michael Hipple said he believes there needs to be a manager in the dispatch center whose job revolves around managing dispatch operations. There currently is no position solely in charge of leading dispatch, he said.

Supervisor Sue Sadler said she would like to see other providers considered besides Motorola. She added she was also concerned about changing vendors for the computer-aided dispatch system and losing the call history data.

The third option — the consolidation with York County — would require additional research on pros and cons, public meetings for residents’ input and a possible outside evaluation of the criteria and technical requirements for the system setup, Ashe said. 

Hipple said he isn’t as interested in pursuing the third option; that option two is likely “our best bet.”

“I’m not a fan of consolidation at all,” Sadler added.

At least three of the supervisors said they would favor option two rather than consolidation.

Police Chief Brad Rinehimer also said he was skeptical consolidation would be the best option. 

There was no opportunity for public comment at Thursday’s work session.

In other business…

Human Resources Director Patrick Teague also gave a presentation about part-time employee classification at Tuesday’s meeting.

The presentation and issue came up after a temporary part-time employee spoke out about his position. He said he worked as many hours as some permanent part-time employees, except they received benefits and he did not.

RELATED STORY: JCC looks at changing employee classification after part-timer brings up discrepancy in benefits

Teague said a county review review revealed some of the temporary part-time employees were functioning more like part-time regular employees, who get benefits.

Therefore, the county is working to review the entire staff of 442 temporary employees to see how many are actually functioning more like regular benefited part-time.

The Board of Supervisors came to a consensus to allow human resources to pursue its recommendations for right-siding the issue with part-time classifications.

Teague said human resources recommends they raise the hour threshold for benefited part-time employees so it’s higher than the current level of 780 hours per year.

Human resources recommends 1,040 hours per year of work, or about 20 hours per week as the new threshold. That rate is close to what Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools and other large, local employers set as the benefit threshold.

Part-time regular employees who work less than 1,040 hours per year would be grandfathered in to the new classification so they keep their benefits, Teague said.

The recommendation also suggests moving some temporary employees to regular part-time positions without the requirement to compete for the part-time position.

Hipple inquired how much the cost increase would be if those temporary employees were changed to regular part-time.

“As far as I know, we don’t have direct costs … to this transition,” Teague said, adding the money would be taken from the temporary “bucket” and moved to the part-time regular benefited “bucket” in the budget.

Stevens said the change would concern work time lost because those employees would get paid time off, but agreed to find out what that dollar figure might look like.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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