Concerned that the center won’t meet its budgetary commitments, Sheriff Richard Roundtree has extended a helping hand in the form of a $54,000 funds transfer.
The sheriff’s office implemented the zone system in May to replace the 35 beats the county had operated with for years. The new plan – with eight zones throughout the county – was designed to increase police presence while cutting down on response time.
Though the change has been a positive one for the sheriff’s office, it has placed more strain on dispatchers in the 911 center, Director Dominick Nutter said.
“When we did the conversion to our new system and (the sheriff’s office) went to the zone concept, the number of officers on the channel for the north precinct increased by 45 to 47 officers, which is entirely too many for one dispatcher to handle,” he said.
Because dispatchers must also answer 911 calls, Nutter said, he has had to bring in extra people to answer phones. In April, the Augusta Commission approved the hiring of five new dispatchers, who were set to start July 1. However, it takes six to eight months to fully train a dispatcher, Nutter said.
In the meantime, he plans to pay overtime to maintain seamless service. He anticipates spending about $108,000 out of his budget to accommodate this.
Enter the sheriff’s office.
Realizing that the stress put on the 911 center was more or less the result of the new zone program, Chief Deputy Pat Clayton said, the sheriff offered to foot half the bill in order to help with Nutter’s budget.
“(Nutter) has always been amicable to help us, and we’ve always been very amicable to help him in certain situations,” he said. “We need to have a great working relationship, I do believe, with all of the public safety agencies.”
The money will come from the department’s salaries and benefits accounts, which have held a surplus in recent years. Clayton said at least 225 officers have left the department over the past three years, creating a “savings” of sorts.
“We have a lot of savings that are generated from people leaving and people filling those positions,” he said.
The transfer was approved by the Augusta Commission last week.
Though the fix is only temporary, Nutter said, it might be just what he needs to stay under his budget of $300,000 for overtime this year.
It’s too early to tell how big of an impact the money will have, but Nutter said he’s grateful that Roundtree thought ahead.
“He understands the second and third order of effects,” Nutter said. “The changes they’re making to make things better for the citizens is going to have a negative impact on my organization, and he realizes that. What he’s doing is helping to accomplish the mission. No matter if he helped me do it or not, I still have to get it done.”