County deputies and jailers as well as those who work at Central Dispatch may soon see a different deal when it comes to holiday pay.
Sheriff Doug Vantlin and Rob McMullen, director of E-911, went before members of the county council on Tuesday during their regular meeting, held at City Hall, 201 Vigo St., with an issue that they say often hampers their ability to properly fill their schedules.
First responders rarely get to take holidays, even though the county gives them 15 paid ones throughout the year.
Since county police and dispatchers aren’t often able to take holidays off, they work, then are owed comp time for that day worked.
But because each department often works at minimum staffing levels, it’s difficult for employees to take the paid time off (PTO) owed to them. If they do, it leaves the department heads scrambling to fill their schedules, often thereby creating even more PTO for someone else.
And on and on it goes.
The result, both Vantlin and McMullen said, is a mounting number of PTO days, ones that may never be taken, thereby leaving those first responders at something of a disadvantage.
“A lot of county employees, they work their 40 hours, they get those holidays off, and it’s not an issue,” the sheriff told the council. “But that’s just not the case with us.”
So the duo pitched an idea to the council: pay deputies, jailers and dispatchers for ten holidays. The employees simply won’t take them off, or if they do want to, they can take vacation days or other PTO days owed to them, thereby continuing to help managers alleviate the overall problem.
The county does grant 15 paid holidays to staff, but the sheriff said most of the employees he spoke to were fine to sacrifice five days if they were paid for ten.
“It’s a way we can pay out those holidays; we have to work them anyway,” the sheriff said with a shrug of his shoulders.
“And that way we don’t have to worry so much about scheduling those PTO days for holidays not taken,” McMullen added.
“Some of our folks (at Central Dispatch) have 200 or more hours of comp time coming to them,” he said, adding that it, too, might be in the county’s best interest to begin paying some of those hours back to employees.
If not, he said, the issue of PTO will continue to be a compounding problem. For every person that takes PTO hours, often more are created for someone else.
His suggestion was to find the funds to pay off employees with an exorbitant number of PTO days, bringing it down to a maximum of 84, “something more manageable,” he told the council.
“I have employees with 2-3 weeks of vacation and then all that PTO, too; with me only having a few people, they’re just not getting all the time off they’re owed.”
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And council members did seem agreeable.
“It would be impossible to give all that time off,” said county council president Harry Nolting, looking from member to member in an effort to build consensus and adding that the issue is likely something they should address come budget time late this summer.
“And from that point, if we can come to an agreement, we would no longer have to give comp time for holidays worked,” the sheriff pointed out. “They would just be paid out.”
McMullen did, however, encourage the council to find the funds to begin paying down the PTO now — not later.
“It may be hard to find the additional funding, yes, but from our side of things, it would be nice to start getting a handle on that yet this year,” he said.
Vantlin and McMullen also reported to council members Tuesday that they’re inching ever closer to going live with Live 911, a new program that allows first responders to listen to emergency calls made to Central Dispatch.
Five deputies are currently undergoing training now, the sheriff said, “and they love it.”
McMullen, too, said while it’s taken a bit longer than anticipated to implement, it is working.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said, “and we hope to be up to full implementation soon.”
Vantlin and McMullen first pitched the idea to council members in December. The initial startup system for Live 911 costs just under $11,000, but it will be split between the sheriff and E-911.
Knox County will now be among the first to use the program in Indiana; Only three other law enforcement agencies in the state are using it, the sheriff said, although it is gaining traction in the states of Florida, California and Texas.
The program, the sheriff has explained, essentially allows deputies to listen to incoming calls to Central Dispatch, hearing, first-hand, vital information ahead of responding to a call.
When someone calls dispatch with an emergency, the on-duty deputy can listen to the phone call, hear everything the dispatcher is hearing, at the same time they’re hearing it.
It cuts down on response time, Vantlin has said, and can alleviate things that can sometimes get lost in translation.
With this first deal, the county has five licenses, but it will be possible to purchase more in the future.
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