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Floyd County board, Charles City police chief discuss moving dispatchers – and keeping them happy

By Bob Steenson,

The new Floyd County Law Enforcement Center being built includes space for a county radio dispatch office, and it has been known for some time that eventually the dispatchers — currently part of the Charles City Police Department — would be moving there.

But the particulars involving when, how and even who have not been settled so far.

The county Board of Supervisors took up the topic at a workshop meeting Monday morning, attended by Charles City Police Chief Hugh Anderson, with the main concern being easing worries on the part of the current dispatchers about their future.

Currently the dispatch department consists of six dispatchers including Dispatch Supervisor John Gohr, under the management of Anderson. The dispatchers are city employees, have a union contract and get city benefits.

However, the dispatchers handle calls county-wide, and the actual cost of the department is paid by the county, reimbursing the city for the pay and other expenses.

“The dispatchers are wondering what’s going on,” said Supervisor Chairman Roy Schwickerath. “They’re really looking for a solid basis for what’s going to happen in the future.”

Schwickerath, who met with the dispatchers recently, said they wondered what the pay scale would be, and his opinion was since the county is already paying that cost he didn’t see any change.

Supervisor Linda Tjaden said, “The biggest thing that we tried to tell the dispatchers is that we want to be as comparable as we can. They’re great employees now. We want to bring them here and be under the county umbrella and treat them just the same as they have been.”

She said there may be some differences in city and county benefits, “but from a salary perspective I remember from early on that we never looked at making a change.”

Chief Anderson said the topic of moving dispatch had been discussed as early as three years ago when plans for the law enforcement center were being developed, but it had been a year or a year and a half since the last time it was discussed.

Now the county law enforcement center is nearing completion and the dispatchers don’t have much more information than they did then, he said.

“We’re actually looking at losing some dispatchers because of the uncertainty,” Anderson said. “They’re applying other places, which I think would be a great injustice to the county to lose superior employees.”

Schwickerath said he favored making the dispatchers county employees and putting them directly on the county payroll as early as January, even if they continue working out of City Hall for a couple of more months until the new dispatch center is ready.

Both the city and the county are on calendar years for insurance benefits, so that would transition smoothly as far as deductibles and other insurance costs, he said.

The supervisors and Anderson also discussed managing the dispatch department.

Currently Anderson is the direct manager, although he said Supervisor Gohr handles the day-to-day operations and knows far more about technical aspects of the job than he does.

Schwickerath said the dispatch supervisor under the county would likely be a salaried manager who would answer directly to the Board of Supervisors, with the power to make hiring decisions.

Anderson said he thought Gohr would be interested in the position and could do the job, and the benefit of making that decision early would be that supervisor could help with advice as the dispatch center is being constructed and outfitted with equipment.

Although Anderson currently manages the dispatchers and the county pays the bills, a Floyd County Communications Board, operating under what is called a 28E agreement between the city and the county, oversees the dispatch department.

That board has five voting members — currently Schwickerath and the county sheriff, two City Council members and a fifth member selected at large by the other four. Non-voting members are currently Anderson and the Charles City fire chief.

Part of the transition process is figuring out what to do with that 28E agreement, and Schwickerath and Anderson said the city and county attorneys are working on that.

Anderson said he would talk with the dispatchers this week to tell them about the discussion that took place Monday, and again emphasized the value of keeping them working for the county.

“We have a great group of dispatchers, compared to other counties, we really do,” Anderson said. “It’s incredibly difficult to hire dispatchers.”