The chief is rotating some road patrolmen to fill dispatching shifts.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LEETONIA -- Police Chief John Soldano hasn't had to serve as a dispatcher yet, but if that happens, he won't be surprised.
A shortage of dispatchers is a chronic problem for the department, but the situation has worsened in recent days.
Only two dispatchers were available to cover shifts this past weekend. Soldano has been covering shifts by rotating some road patrolmen into the dispatch center.
Soldano said he needs to hire at least four dispatchers to make scheduling manageable. He has four available now and one in training.
He said ideally he'd like to have 10 part-timers available to cover eight-hour shifts, but scheduling is manageable with eight or nine.
There were eight dispatchers last month, but some are now on maternity leave and others have left for better jobs, he added.
Need for incentives: Soldano explained that three of the last five dispatchers who left the department did so for jobs with better wages and benefits packages.
The most recent dispatcher to quit resigned Monday after three weeks of training and one week of work.
"When discussions start on the 2002 budget, we need to take a serious look at how we can improve the incentives," Soldano said. "Right now we are offering wages and that's it. People can work at McDonald's or Wal-Mart for about the same pay, and with far less responsibility."
Village council agreed last week to increase the starting salary for dispatchers from $6.90 to $7.57 per hour.
"Some other departments are paying as much as $10 per hour with some benefits," he said. "Some have three or four full-time dispatchers. On the budget we have now, we can't compete with that."
The annual budget for salaries for himself, 10 police officers and eight dispatchers is $214,000.
Soldano doesn't see contracting with another department for dispatching services as an option.
"We want people here," he said. "I don't think contracting is feasible, and I don't think council has even considered it. The four dispatchers remaining have been here for several years and they are loyal employees."
Keeping new dispatchers once they are hired and trained is a challenge, Soldano said, as is scheduling them around other work and family responsibilities.
Dispatchers are scheduled on four eight-hour shifts. They pay into the state Public Employees Retirement System, but no health benefits or vacation are offered.
Soldano said dispatchers should have good computer, typing and telephone skills and be able to deal with the public.
He said he'd prefer hiring dispatchers with experience but would consider training someone who has good skills.
Anyone interested in a position may pick up an application or mail a r & eacute;sum & eacute; to village hall, Soldano said.