WCTV Exclusive: Thomas County 911 Struggles With Staffing

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By: Andy Alcock

Thomas County, GA - Brandon Waddell has been answering some of the roughly 640 phone calls per day to Thomas County 911 for ten years.

Like other dispatchers, the father of two young children hasn't had a pay raise in five years.

"We currently rent because during the time of no raises, the economy crashed, we did lose our house," said Waddell.

"With the cost of living, they're saying it's difficult to meet personal needs," said Thomas County 911 Director Ann Powell.

Powell made a presentation to the Thomas County Board of Commissioners April 1st.

She noted since November, 2011, 16 dispatchers have left Thomas County 911, about a 75% turnover rate.

Ten of them cited salary and no raise opportunities as a reason.
The starting salary for a dispatcher is $10.38 an hour.

"I think every person on the board would love to give a raise," said Thomas County Board of Commissioners Chair Elaine May. "Now the problem with giving raises is where do you get the money?," she said.

Mays says the answer is a local tax increase so all county employees, including dispatchers, can get a raise.

The lack of raises means some dispatchers with several years experience are making the same wage as the new dispatchers they're training.

Additionally, in her presentation, Powell argued the lack of raises is a money loser for the county.

Because Thomas County dispatchers handle calls for state, county and Thomasville city emergency services, they're required to have five different certications.

The training for those certifications for the 16 people who left 911 in the last year and half cost county government nearly $143,000.

Powell argues incentive raises may have prevented some of those people from leaving.

Instead, the county is spending tens of thousands of dollars again to train new dispatchers.

"I think it's probably a very good argument," said Mays. "I wish I had a solution for it," she said.

"They really do need to move the people that's been here all along, move them up," said Waddell.

The high turnover presents another problem.

There are 20 full-time and 5 part-time dispatch positions.

There are currently 15 full and 3 part timers to cover a 24 hour, 7 day a week service.

"Now are they tired? Yes they are," said Powell. "Have we placed the citizens in a precarious situation or dangerous situation? No we have not," she said.

Reporter: "These people save lives." "Yes they do and they care," said Powell.

The Thomas County Board of Commissioners would make any decision about raises when voting on the county budget in December.

That budget will then take effect in January.


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