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Plan to consolidate Hagerstown, Washington County emergency dispatch centers advances

Some city dispatchers displeased with proposal

Some city dispatchers displeased with proposal

June 11, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HAGERSTOWN -- Hagerstown Police Department Dispatcher Shelbie Hall agrees that Washington County and the City of Hagerstown should combine their emergency dispatch centers.

She does not, however, want to lose her benefits in the process.

Hall is one of 11 city police dispatchers who would become county employees under a planned consolidation of the county and city communication centers.

She and several of her colleagues attended a joint meeting Tuesday between the Hagerstown City Council and Washington County Commissioners to make their displeasure known.

"When the city hired me, they made a promise to give me certain benefits, and I want those benefits," Hall said.

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Because the city and county have different benefits packages, a consolidation committee was tasked with reviewing the differences and making recommendations on how city dispatchers should be compensated.

Hall said she will lose a week of vacation, 12 floating holidays and five years of vested retirement if the committee's recommendations are enacted.

Proposed changes to retirement plans, floating holidays and vacation are among the biggest problems with the committee's recommendations, according to Jim Bestpitch, staff representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Under the recommended changes, city dispatchers with 18 or more years of service would lose one week of vacation per year.

Although they would be paid for the time and given three extra personal days, Bestpitch said the lost time is irreplaceable for many dispatchers.

"Money can't replace time with family," Bestpitch said.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said Tuesday he will schedule a meeting in July to hear from dispatchers who would be affected by the changes.

"I don't think everyone is going to be happy, but we have to do the best we can for our citizens, the general fund and our employees," Bruchey said.

The City Council and County Commissioners voted unanimously to agree in concept to the consolidation plan Tuesday, a formal step that had not yet been taken although the plan has been in the works for more than two years.

The City Council also voted to approve a cost-sharing agreement for the city employees who would become county workers under the plan.

The city will pay 85 percent of the existing 11 dispatchers' salaries and the county will pay the remaining 15 percent and benefits when those employees move to the county.

Emergency Services Interim Director Kevin L. Lewis said the installation of the system will be finished by January 2009, when testing and preliminary start-up will begin.

City police should be using the system between March 2009 and July 2009.

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