Changes at 911-call center could save money

The Kenai Peninsula Borough last week introduced an ordinance to increase the number of its employees in the 911-call center as a way to save money.

The move, once negotiations with the state are complete, would allow the borough to take up to eight employees — six dispatchers and two supervisors — from state employment and move them into borough employment at the Soldotna Public Safety Communications Center. Currently, employees in the center are a mix of state and borough workers.

A public hearing on the matter is set for Oct. 8 during the assembly’s regularly scheduled meeting.

One expected result is the removal of what the borough human resources department calls a “difficult management scenario,” based on multiple contracts, different pay scales and separate definitions of a full work week. The move could save the borough up to $100,000 a year in overtime expense — the amount encumbered by the 2013 budget, which ended June 30.

The eight workers are expected to cost the borough $777,000 a year. Much but not all of the cost will be covered by the state.

Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the 911 calls handled at the center are for Alaska State Troopers and other state services.

In an August memo sent to Borough Assembly President Linda Murphy, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said that an expected reduction of overtime should cover the gap in state contributions to pay for the new employees. However, the memo did not include a fiscal note saying how much the difference might be.

“It is anticipated that a final agreement will be reached prior to the final hearing and will be provided at that time,” Navarre wrote.

Along with as-yet-unknown money for hourly wages, the state is expected to pay $14,000 each year for equipment and training of call center employees.

Ordinance 2013-19-19 passed without an assembly vote via the consent agenda during the regularly scheduled bi-monthly assembly meeting in Soldotna. All discussion on the matter happened earlier in the day during an Assembly Finance Committee meeting.

Along with the multiple contract issue, the ordinance sought to reduce more than $100,000 in overtime expenses incurred by the borough during the last fiscal year.

Navarre, who is working on the negotiations with the Alaska Department of Public Safety, said he expects that bringing all 911-call center employees under one system will relieve overtime issues.

The state is expected to pay for much of the expense for the first two years of the new dispatch employee scenario, but the borough will cover some of the increased expenses associated with the new employees.

“This appears to be, in the short term, the best possible solution,” said District 8 Assemblyman Bill Smith. “It helps reconcile a lot of the issues.”

District 7 Assemblyman Brent Johnson warned the deal could fall apart after the two-year agreement and leave the borough with the bill, but also noted the plan sounded like a good “short term fix.”

Also funding the center are contributions from Kenai, Nikiski and Soldotna police and fire departments and from monies collected through the 911 taxes applied to traditional landline and mobile phones billed within the borough.

That tax was increased earlier this summer as a way to reduce the borough general fund contribution to the call center.

The 911-tax rate is still less than the maximum allowed under state law and Navarre said that more can be collected if state funding is reduced after the initial two-year run.

Greg Skinner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.