By Bill Oakey – May 29, 2014
Update: Please see City staff response at the end of this posting.
In two recent blog postings, I pointed out the fact that the City operated from last summer through the end of December with over 900 vacant staff positions funded in the budget. And yet, here we are eight months into the fiscal year with the 911 Call Center seriously understaffed. The workers are so severely stressed that they have a 20% turnover rate for call takers and 25% for dispatchers. Overtime costs are soaring, citizen wait times for emergency calls have increased, and the City Manager has allowed the situation to continue.
For the past two years in the budget process, the Emergency Communications Division, which is under the Police Department, has requested more staff. Both times the requests were denied. Now, as we approach the third budget cycle, we learn that finally, a new City report is forthcoming that will highlight the seriousness of the issue. The Public Safety Commission will include this topic on their agenda at their June 2nd meeting.
On yesterday’s news broadcasts, a KXAN investigative report based on seven months of research spelled out the troubling details. You can watch the KXAN video and read about it here. The broadcast revealed high amounts of staff absences for sick leave and stressful overtime requirements. It is not cost effective to operate a critical public safety office in such a manner. Having to constantly rehire and train new people does not serve the taxpayers well. Especially in an environment where over 900 citywide staff vacancies were fully funded in this year’s budget.
It is long past time for someone at City Hall to step up and deal with this problem. How much worse does it have to get before they take action? This issue illustrates one more reason why we desperately need new leadership, both at the management and City Council levels.
Update: City Staff Unmet Service Demand Dated May 20th
As part of the annual budget process, City financial staff has made a recommendation for 61 new non-sworn police staff positions. These include some new staff for the 911 Call Center, although the exact number is not specified. See Page 33, Item 5 in the staff recommendation. This provides hope that some relief may be coming in October. In the meantime, at the Citizens Forum on Saturday, I will ask the City Council to transfer at least $1 million in surplus funds to pay for new staff between now and the end of September.