Officials express disappointment with dispatch

by Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

Several fire chiefs throughout Quay County have complained about the 911 central dispatch system based at the Tucumcari Police Department, said Donald Adams, Quay County fire marshal.

Dispatchers are calling out the wrong codes, more dispatcher training is needed and dispatcher turnover at the job is too high, Adams said.

“They have talked to me on more than one occasion. The fire chiefs are not happy,” said Adams at Friday’s Quay County Commission meeting.

One problem is that dispatchers have been calling the wrong units to certain locations, Adams said. “I think when they get this new mapping system up, it’ll be better,” he said. “They also need to get some really good training.”
Tucumcari City Manager Richard Primrose said a dispatcher’s job is highly stressful, which attributes to turnover, and that keeping people is difficult within the city’s budget.

Police Chief Larry Ham said complaints raised by Adams “probably have some truth to them … because there is a high amount of turnover and people are still being trained.”
A dispatcher’s base salary is $7.25 per hour, Ham said, adding that he had lost at least one senior dispatcher to the New Mexico State Police office in Tucumcari, where the pay is $2 to $3 more an hour.

Another dispatcher may also be interviewing with the State Police, Ham said. “You can’t blame them” for seeking out a higher paying job, Ham said.

The dispatch office is fully staffed with seven people. One has three years experience, four have between three and four months’ experience and two have about three weeks’ experience, Ham said.

In addition to in-house training, dispatchers must take a three-week course to become certified within their first year of work and that is a cost the police deparment budget must also pay, Ham said.

Ham said he had spoken with city commissioners, Mayor Mary Mayfield and Primrose regarding the need for more funding for dispatchers as well as for police officers.

Formally known as the Tucumcari/Quay Regional Emergency Communications Center, the enhanced 911 dispatch center serves the city of Tucumcari, villages of House, Logan and San Jon, and the remainder of Quay County, as well as parts of Harding County and the Conchas Dam area of San Miguel County.

The 911 system is operated by the Tucumcari Police Department, of the city of Tucumcari. There is a two-year, 50-50 funding agreement between the city and the county, since the new consolidated 911 dispatch system was installed and operating as of June 30, Ham said. The system cost more than $750,000 and was funded mostly by the state’s Department of Finance Administration.

Operating expenses for the dispatch center are being culled from the police budget by the city’s finance department, Ham said.

Primrose recommended in August to the Quay County Commission that a new public safety sales tax would generate more than $335,000 annually and that would address some of the dispatcher salary and equipment issues, such as a backup system.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” that the proposed tax will be put on the ballot and receive voter approval, Ham said.

“I hope the public will understand what that money will do. We’re asking for money because we need better training and better pay so we can retain dispatchers. Also the city can’t bear all the burden when we’re also serving other communities.”

County commissioners took no action, but suggested Primrose visit with others the center serves to discuss its widened area of services and need for the tax and to garner support.

A sophisticated mapping system that displays the location of a distress call – from a land line or cell phone – on a computer screen recently became operational.

The state’s Department of Finance Administration more or less mandated the installation of the consolidated systems to reduce the number dispatch units and save on equipment costs, Ham said.

However, “the state did not provide any operational costs” nor did it “provide any funding for a backup,” Ham added.
Ham, who came to Tucumcari from the Silver City Police Department, said when the enhanced 911 system was installed there, the department faced similar challenges regarding funding.