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Hagerstown emergency dispatchers air concerns about consolidation

July 16, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday heard concerns from the city's emergency dispatchers, who said their benefits would suffer when the city and county 911 centers consolidate within the next year.

When that happens, the two agencies will move into a new building, and the county will run the operation. As a result, the dispatchers who are now with the city will become county employees.

Shelby Hall, who has been a city dispatcher for the past four years, told the council that city dispatchers would be forced to accept the county's inferior benefits package. As a result, some city dispatchers would lose vacation time they have earned, she said.

In addition, Hall said the county benefits package would, in some cases, require dispatchers to burn a vacation day to take a holiday.

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"That's not acceptable," Hall said. "I don't want to have to take vacation time to get a holiday."

Another city dispatcher, 31-year veteran Pam Drenner, said she was concerned that she wouldn't be able to retire with the new package.

George Sonnik, human resources director for Washington County, addressed Drenner's comments from the audience, saying that if she worked another five years, she would be able to retire at 74 percent of her final salary.

Drenner said she wanted to get the deal in writing before she retires.

The council agreed to hear the dispatchers to get a better idea of their concerns, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

"(We're) going to find a way to treat everyone fairly," he said.

After the discussion, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said the consolidation is good for everyone. Within the first year, the center will save the taxpayers about $1 million, he said.

In addition, state-of-the-art technology will skip delays in the existing system by using caller identification to send a police cruiser directly to the scene.

"It will improve public safety," Smith said. "You can get there much quicker."

Smith said the positives of the benefits package far outweigh the negatives.

"In general, they'll have less expensive health care, a better pension and more pay," Smith said. "How often do you get a chance to improve public safety, save money and benefit employees ... for the most part?"

The council agreed to gather more information and further review the dispatcher's concerns.

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