Police seeking approval to hire additional full time Dispatcher

by beth on November 16, 2021

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On tonight’s Select Board agenda is follow up on a staffing request made by the Chief of Southboough Police earlier this month.

Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus described to the Board and Advisory Committee an urgent need for increasing the full time Dispatcher staff. He is looking to up the number from 4 to 5.

The request, on the heels of a Special Town Meeting and learning about a projected increase in residents’ property taxes, was met with dismay and frustration. Select Board members were upset to not have an earlier heads up on a purportedly dire need. They had believed that adding two officers over 2020-2021 satisfied the departments’ needs long term staffing needs.

Chief Paulhus explained that his need was a result of the changes in the hiring market. It has been increasingly difficult to fill positions when they lose a staff member. The position requires certain training and they are competing with other departments for qualified personnel.

In past years, part time dispatchers had been willing to step up and put in more hours when needed. That’s no longer the case. Instead, the Chief had been forced to compel officers to fill in the extra hours this fall. He worried about the department being crippled if resignations or long term leave left them with two vacancies to cover.

In the November 3rd meeting, references were made to the Town’s research into a regional Dispatch center. Paulhus noted that it is an effort that appears to be years out. His need to maintain the 24 x 7 staffing is immediate.

Advisory Chair Kathy Cook expressed hope that they could find funding in the existing budget rather than using the Reserve Fund. She asked both Paulhus and Fire Chief Steven Achilles to take another look at their budget and the use of PILOT funds donated by Harvard University for public safety expenses.

Select Board members asked for Paulhus to provide more detail on the staffing need and expense.

For much more detail, you can read the Community Advocate’s coverage here.

Materials on the topic were included in this week’s meeting packet. You can see those here.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JB November 16, 2021 at 2:06 PM

Police and Fire need to realize staffing budgets are not unlimited. The answer should be NO, plain and simple. How about ELIMINATING positions by attrition? We are in a financial crisis in this town and adding positions is not the answer.

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2 beth November 16, 2021 at 2:10 PM

Are you saying that communications dispatch positions should remain vacant? Who would answer emergency calls?

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3 JB November 16, 2021 at 2:52 PM

Yes, that is correct. The Chief is paid to execute operations within budget and that includes using existing resources to get the phones answered. Yet another NEW position is ridiculous.

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4 roxanneperro2@gmail.com November 19, 2021 at 9:31 AM

JB is correct. WORK WITHIN YOUR BUDGET SOUTHBOROUGH. If (now, this is a new and fabulous thought), stay with me here, you don’t have the extra funds, you either work within your budget, or make cuts. I bet, if the police department dug deep, they could come up with ways to implement what they need, rather than choke the taxpayers, again. Northeast100, we’ve all experienced emergencies at one time or another. Department heads need to roll up their sleeves, find creative COST saving ways to help us, not cripple us. NO NEW TAXES. JUST SAY NO. Sound familiar?

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5 Northeast100 November 16, 2021 at 8:46 PM

I guess “JB” has never experienced an emergency where they need to call 911 for help. You never know when you need help if you see someone breaking into a car or hear a noise in your house at 3am, report a car accident, call for a fire or medical emergency. I don’t see those situations as “ridiculous.”I am grateful for our first responders and as a tax payer i fully support a new full time dispatcher. In the end it’s cheaper to hire a dispatcher instead of all the overtime(aka “existing resources”) to fill a vacant spot.

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6 southsider November 17, 2021 at 9:28 AM

A bit curious… there’s always been a 7 x 24 need. It’s not something new. The need for 168 hours/week of coverage shouldn’t be a surprise budget-wise.
The coverage monies should have been in the budget already…either as salaries for other dispatchers or as planned overtime …

Seems to me that the added staff should result in a reduction in planned overtime and be somewhat cost neutral.

I’d rather be paying for a trained dispatcher than have a more expensive police officer cover the phones on OT.

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7 beth November 17, 2021 at 11:41 AM

Because benefits go along with a full time position, it isn’t cost neutral. But savings on overtime was one of the things the Chief was asked to quantify. The reason given for the surprise was that the longtime reliance on part time staff to temporarily take on extra hours was no longer working. (I should note that I haven’t had a chance yet to watch last night’s discussion, so I don’t know if anything new was revealed or contested about the cost and background.)

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8 Resident November 18, 2021 at 3:41 PM

I always find it humorous when somebody like JB makes a comment like that. Who is going to answer your call when your kid falls down the stairs and is bleeding, when your wife gets burned cooking dinner, when there is a serious car accident in front of your house and somebody is trapped and dying. Any of these situations and so much more can happen at a moment’s notice. Should we wait for the full time shift to come in the next morning when the guy going 100 on Route 9 flips his car to call and have them send help? Your comments are ridiculous. The part time workers are not putting in the overtime that they used to. We need the help. Do we want to pay more, no but we need to. If you want we can put your name on a list so they don’t respond to your call until they have a person available. Then I am sure you will hoot and holler that we need more staff.

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9 JB November 19, 2021 at 10:57 AM

Resident, of course I want the phone answered when there is an emergency, but I stand by my original assertion that the Chief could get the phones answered using existing resources and creative solutions. Your “what if” scenarios is exactly the strategy police and fire use to get what they want even if it isn’t needed – a reliance on fear to drive budget increases and more staff year after year. Don’t worry though, Resident, the BOS will have a unanimous vote shortly and taxpayers will cough up the money for another new position with benefits in perpetuity.

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