A recently re-formed E-911 Advisory Committee is looking to increase wages for county dispatchers.
Tim Trotter, Debbie Schmidtknecht and Sonny Pinkstaff, all members of the reactivated advisory committee, went before the Knox County Council on Tuesday during its first round of annual budget hearings to propose a tiered wage system which they believe will not only improve employee retention but encourage professional development as well.
“I preach and preach about consistency, good attitude, customer relations,” said Schmidtknecht, director of the E-911 system. “But right now, there is nothing for them to work for. Pay is automatic, across the board. 'This' is how much you get no matter how much effort you put forth.
“There is no incentive to stay or improve because there is no way to move up,” she said.
Trotter, in making the pitch, said the committee has been looking at salaries and compensation elsewhere in Indiana, and Knox County is lagging behind — as city and county departments often do — in terms of pay.
Trotter also pointed to the level of knowledge required to be a dispatcher, from memorizing codes to understanding helicopter landing zones. He even put together a packet of information — noting its thickness — to serve as an example of all the information dispatchers are expected to know.
“I know you guys understand it's an important job,” Trotter said. “bBut this is really just a fraction of the stuff they are required to know, most of the time off the top of their heads.”
Currently, committee members said, dispatchers come on at a set salary and that's where they stay regardless of how many certifications they earn or how many years they stay.
New hires, they reiterated, make the same amount of money as veteran dispatchers.
So they are proposing a new tiered pay scale to allow for increases based on longevity, professional development and positive performance reviews. It even allows for stipends for taking on additional duties, Trotter said.
The committee asked for a minimum of $52,000 in additional monies to be distributed to the dispatchers to help set the groundwork for the new pay scale.
Some veteran dispatchers would see a $6,000 bump in pay to $38,000 per year. Others would see either a $2,000 or $1,000 per year increase. After it all shakes out, the lowest salary at Central Dispatch would be $33,200.
And all of them, committee members said, would then be eligible to earn more as the years progress.
“What I like about this is that it holds the employee accountable through performance evaluations,” Pinkstaff said of the proposed program. “If you're just going to be there 20 years and do nothing, that won't work.”
The average length of employment for a dispatcher is just four years, committee members said, so they're hoping this new system will entice people to stay awhile longer, thereby rewarding the entire Central Dispatch system with experienced, well-trained employees.
“We're looking at (improved) retention with this,” said councilman Randy Crismore, “and I like that.”
Council president Bob Lechner, too, commended the committee for its hard work. Their's was a proposal, he said, worth considering.
“This is a tremendous amount of work,” he said holding up the packet of information handed over from advisory committee members. “I really like what you've done regarding the tiers. That's something we've struggled with for years in that we don't have any kind of classification systems. It's difficult to know how to compensate people who do similar jobs.
“We don't get requests this well thought out, so thank you,” Lechner said as discussions came to an end. “I can't promise you what we'll do, but you've given us a lot to look at.”