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Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Celina Police may eliminate dispatchers

By William Kincaid
CELINA - The dispatching department for the Celina Police Department may be liquidated as a cost savings measure for the city.
Celina Mayor Sharon LaRue on Tuesday said terminating the dispatchers is a possibility as she and city officials look at all ways to save money. She was unsure whether the issue would be discussed at the city council meeting Monday (7 p.m., in city hall).
The newspaper contacted LaRue after receiving calls about the situation from concerned citizens.
The city employs six full-time and a couple part-time dispatchers, city Auditor Emily Stewart said. For the 2010 budget, $240,795 has been set aside for the dispatchers' normal wages - not pension or other benefits - and $9,500 has been allocated for a part-time intern code enforcement position.
Stewart said she was told that if the city relinquished its dispatchers, by law, all calls and dispatching must be absorbed by the Mercer County Sheriff's Department.
Celina Police Chief Dave Slusser had no comment, adding that he was "ordered" not to discuss the situation.
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey this morning said two meetings have been held between Celina administrators and himself on the possibility of his office taking Celina calls.
"They wanted to know if we were physically able to do the dispatching services if they choose to do that (eliminate the city dispatchers)," Grey said. "I really don't have a choice in the matter. We would be able to do their dispatching services because we dispatch everything in the county with the exception of the police cars in the city."
Grey said it would add three to five patrol cars that dispatchers would work with.
"On the law enforcement side, it would double the car load because Celina ... is that busy," Grey said.
If the Celina dispatching department is terminated, Grey said the sheriff's department could handle the situation in two ways: treat Celina like all other municipalities in the county with current dispatchers directing the calls to the proper enforcement or emergency official or bill the city to hire an additional dispatcher to handle just Celina calls.
"We haven't really got the numbers nailed down yet," Grey said when asked how much it would cost the city for the sheriff's department to hire another dispatcher.
According to Grey, the countywide dispatch system was started in the late 1970s. At that time, Celina opted out and established its own center.
"It is completely, solely a city decision as to what they do," Grey said.
Celina dispatcher Angie Ewing, who has been an employee of the Celina Police Department for more than 15 years, said dispatchers do much more than just handle calls.
In addition to processing 190,000 calls a year and an average of 23 calls an hour, dispatchers act as deputy clerks for the municipal and juvenile courts, processing affidavits to be issued for arrests and handling bonds and waivers to the court.
Ewing said the dispatchers work hand-in-hand with the officers.
They also help citizens who come in to the police department, answer utility calls after hours, help officers start reports and gather witness statements.
They also are first-line responders, Ewing said.
"When people are calling in because they're suicidal, we're the ones that stay on the lines with them," she said, pointing out dispatchers are responsible for many things the public may not know about.
The dispatchers are available 24-7 and are accessible to both the public and all other government agencies, she said.
"I don't think they (city administration) understand the ramifications that this is going to have on the city," she said.
If the dispatchers are terminated, Ewing believes officer response time will decrease.
She also said she just heard about the possibility on Tuesday afternoon and believes there are other proposals that could save the city more money than cutting dispatchers.
City officials have been fretting over the tight budget for several months. Total expenses in the general fund for the year are expected to be $5.93 million, while total income is expected to be $5.43 million. The deficit spending will be covered with $506,460 carryover from last year.
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