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WATER VALLEY – Looking for a job? Yalobusha County has multiple positions open for dispatchers at the 911 dispatch center.
Yalobusha County EMA Director Stewart Spence and Deputy Director Jarred Logan appealed to supervisors for help during Monday’s county board meeting, explaining that they were down to three full-time dispatchers and six part-time dispatchers. Fully staffed, the dispatch center would employ eight full-time dispatchers and a minimum of five part-time dispatchers to field 911 phone calls and communicate with the county’s law enforcement agencies, medical personnel and fire fighters. The small staff means long hours as two dispatchers are required per 12-hour shift each day, 365 days per year.
“We are asking what are we going to do? What is the back-up plan?” Stewart asked supervisors about addressing the shortage.
Spence and Logan were hired as the county’s EMA directors in March, 2022, and volunteered a month later to handle the dispatch center. From 2015 when the new jail was constructed until that change last year, the county’s sheriff had responsible for staffing the dispatch center and managing the budget for dispatchers’ salaries.
“The short answer is, I don’t know,” Board President Cayce Washington answered about addressing the shortage. Washington noted that finding employees is a problem that impacts all employers.
“The sheriff is having a hard time keeping staff. The hospital struggles to keep workers. I don’t have a good answer for it,” Washington added.
Potential solutions discussed in Monday’s meeting included more aggressive advertising as District 4 Supervisor Eddie Harris recommended posting the position in newspapers in Yalobusha and surrounding counties.
Washington also recommended reaching out to the Mississippi Employment Security Commission (MDES) including the WIN Job Center.
Washington also acknowledged one problem that regularly surfaces in discussions about retaining dispatchers.
“I know one of the challenges we fight is the location of the dispatch center,” Washington explained.
The dispatch center is located inside the county jail, as dispatchers also assist with jail operations including unlocking doors and monitoring prisoners. The jail layout allows dispatchers to monitor multiple pods that house prisoners from inside a centrally located room, but the location has been cited as distracting when handling emergency calls and even a potential security risk for the dispatchers.
“I think there is an active discussion with this board about how to address that and pay for it,” Washington continued.
Monday’s discussion included finding an alternate location for the dispatch center that could include utilizing an existing building or constructing a new one. One problem, frequently cited in prior county meetings, is that the sheriff’s department would be required to hire more jailers to fill the void if dispatchers are moved out of the facility.
“But this problem is not just because it is located inside the jail. The labor pool today is not that strong,” Washington reiterated about the shortage.
In recent months two full-time dispatchers have left for other positions in the county – one working as a deputy clerk in the justice court office and the second as an administrative assistant in the sheriff’s department. Supervisor Harris asked about reaching out to the former dispatchers to see if they would be willing to work part-time as dispatchers in addition to their full-time positions.
Spence noted that this can cause conflict between agencies as overtime laws complicate working dual roles. Spence explained that an employee who works 40 hours in one position in the county would earn overtime pay for any additional hours worked, even if it is in a different county department.
“Who is paying the overtime?” Spence asked.
“If they work over 40 hours, you have to pay them time-and-a-half. If push comes to shove, you might have to do that,” Harris said.
“I don’t know a good answer about how to address that. Unfortunately this is something you guys said you wanted to take on, the 911 call center. A lot of this falls on you guys on how to get creative with ways to figure out how to do that. It sounds like you need to do it sooner rather than later,” Washington said as discussion on the matter came to a close.
Dispatcher applications are available at the county jail located on Hwy. 32. To inquire, see a dispatcher inside the facility. The starting pay is currently $11 per hour.