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Ongoing audit of York County 911 center taking longer than expected
As York County officials continue dealing with departures in the understaffed 911 center, an audit that is supposed to help address that issue is taking longer than they expected.
At last count, in mid-April, the county was employing 41 active dispatcher/call-takers and seven more who are only signed off to work the switchboard; the county budgets for 86 total 911 employees.
Another 16 were about to begin training in some capacity.
County spokesman Mark Walters confirmed that three more dispatchers — two full-time and one part-time — resigned last week.
The high number of vacancies has led to excessive mandated overtime for the employees remaining, and numerous recently departed dispatchers as well as some emergency responders have expressed fears about the safety of the public and emergency responders because of exhausted dispatchers.
One former dispatcher even warned that the issue "could get someone killed" if nothing changes.
Audit: The county hired Business Information Group last September to conduct an operational review, or audit, of the 911 center looking at operations, staff, budget and communications to identify recommendations for improvement.
The York Dispatch acquired a copy of that contract as well as payments to the York-based IT company through a Right-to-Know request.
BIG's plan estimates that it will need to spend 195 hours with costs not to exceed $43,875.
The contract specifies a number of tasks and "deliverables," including identifying security risks, analyzing staff competence and making recommendations about staff compensation.
Through the end of March, the county had paid BIG $16,540 for 72 hours of work on the audit, according to invoices.
County administrator Mark Derr, who has served as the county's point of contact with BIG, said county officials were thinking the audit would be completed by now, but he has no idea when it will be done.
The contract does not specify a projected completion date.
In response to The York Dispatch's Right-to-Know request seeking documentation showing recommendations made by BIG, the county stated that no such documents existed because "no recommendations have been made, to date."
Derr countered that BIG has been making recommendations on an ongoing basis, but nothing is in writing.
He said a 911 management reorganization that included letting two deputy directors go and hiring former Lower Windsor Township Police Chief Tim Caldwell as assistant director occurred as a result of BIG's recommendations.
The center also is looking to hire a customer service-type official to interact more proactively with public safety agencies, Derr said.
Other contract: The Right-to-Know request also turned up a separate contract the county signed with BIG in February to assist with the implementation of a new 911 radio system.
That contract originally projected the scope of work would not exceed $50,000, but county commissioners approved an amendment to the contract in July, and the county ended up paying BIG nearly $73,000 for that work, which lasted through September.
Derr said the project grew, and the commissioners agreed to allow the company to exceed its original budget because they recognized the value in what BIG was providing.
John Dolmetsch, listed as the executive architect and subject matter expert for BIG in both contracts, has experience working on similar systems throughout the country and has been able to look at the work from a business standpoint, Derr said, adding that the county is happy with the work he's done.
Dolmetsch could not be reached for comment.
Turnover: A recent York Dispatch review of employment numbers from more than a dozen other county 911 centers in Pennsylvania found that York County's staffing shortage is the most severe.
Derr said part of BIG's audit will address the high staff turnover, but no recommendations have been made on it yet.
Based on what he's been told, Derr said part of the issue with staffing and mandated overtime is a lack of uniform procedures in place for responding to different public safety agencies.
Standardizing procedures would allow more dispatchers to cover different positions and shifts, which should alleviate some of that overtime, he said.
— Reach David Weissman at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.