OT costs for Allegheny County's 911 center spikes
Overtime costs in the Allegheny County Emergency Services Department soared in recent years and could top $2 million by the end of the year, breaching a threshold that could spur the county to hire more 911 dispatchers.
Public safety officials point to frequent storms forcing staffers at the 911 Communications Center in Point Breeze to work long hours to handle a potential deluge of calls. Labor union officials, however, said rising overtime is a sign of a staffing shortage that must be addressed.
“Our position is the county needs to hire more full-time personnel,” said Rick Grejda, a former 911 dispatcher and business agent for the Service Employees International Union Local 668, which represents dispatchers. “They are spending increasing amounts of money and materially affecting the quality of service.”
Emergency Services Chief Alvin Henderson said the county has filled its full-time dispatch positions and is evaluating staffing needs. If overtime costs for 2013 top $2 million, as spending projects it will, the department might hire more dispatchers or change staffing patterns, Henderson said.
“It's a balancing act,” Henderson said. “Sometimes, it does make financially prudent sense to have overtime.”
County Controller Chelsa Wagner plans to review the department “to find ways to promote financial efficiency and optimal working conditions for those on the front lines of our public's safety,” she said.
The 911 center handles about 1.3 million calls annually, a number that steadily increased as the county took over dispatching responsibilities for smaller municipalities and Pittsburgh, Henderson said. The number of dispatchers has stayed consistent, about 212, for the past five years. The county's 911 center is the second-busiest in Pennsylvania behind Philadelphia.
Of the $1.71 million in overtime the county paid to emergency service employees in 2012, 85 percent went to 911 dispatchers, according to the county controller's office. Overtime costs for the department jumped 28 percent in 2012, and 31 percent for dispatchers. Through July of this year, the department has paid $1.22 million in overtime. If the trend continues, the county will spend $2.09 million on overtime for the department.
One employee more than doubled her salary in 2012 with nearly $60,000 in overtime. Eight employees in the department earned more than $20,000 in overtime in 2012; 51 employees made more than $10,000.
Henderson said the county budgets about $2 million a year for overtime. He attributed the bump in 2012 to Hurricane Sandy, which put the department on high-alert as the storm roared inland. Frequent storms in 2013 have necessitated abnormally high levels of overtime.
“We've had a lot of weather cells that didn't pan out,” Henderson said. “It looked like Allegheny County was going to be smack dab in the center for Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully, it sort of broke up.”
High levels of overtime are not unique to Allegheny County. New York City dispatchers held a public protest in July to decry 80-hour work weeks. Dispatchers in San Jose, Calif., threatened to strike because of overtime tied to a staffing shortage.
In addition to requiring extra staff during emergencies and events — playoff games, parades, large concerts — the need for overtime arises because of holidays and vacations at the around-the-clock dispatch center, Henderson and Grejda said.
“I understood,” said Rick Mancuso, who retired from the dispatch center in 2007 after about a decade. “There are seats, and those seats have to be occupied.”
Mancuso, 65, of Beechview stopped working overtime in 2005 because of a heart condition.
Any extra hours — typically four or eight — drained him. Dispatchers can work up to 16 hours per day.
“It's a taxing job,” Mancuso said. “Even an eight-hour shift can be tough, but when you're working a 16, (it's) trouble staying awake, I'll tell you.”
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Duquense teen to stand trial on charges he shot, killed unborn child
- 2 sentenced for avoiding arrest after Steelers player was stabbed
- 6 cited for trespassing on UPMC property at union rally
- Giant Eagle provides assistance to fight proposed Wal-Mart in McCandless
- 1 intruder killed, other shot and wounded in Carrick home invasion
- Peduto says city dropped UPMC lawsuit to help nonprofit payment talks
- Detour on Bower Hill Road to end Friday
- Foreign influx in Allegheny County at ‘tipping point’
- Most back Holy Family’s plan to house children who crossed border
- Corbett christens $960K bus shelter, bicycle station in Robinson
- Peduto offers ray of light to understaffed Pittsburgh building bureau