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The city has been losing dispatchers because of low pay. The council on Tuesday approved a bump of nearly $3 an hour.

North Adams Council Votes $3 Pay Raise for Dispatchers

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Police Chief Jason Wood explains the need for a wage increase for dispatchers at Tuesday's City Council meeting.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday rectified longstanding complaints about the low pay of city dispatchers — at least for the moment.
 
At the request of the administration, the council immediately passed to a second reading a new starting wage that will jump most of the dispatcher's hourly wages by about $3 retroactive to July 1. 
 
The Police Department has had difficulty hiring and keeping dispatchers because other communities and institutions are paying much more.
 
"It's hard to retain help or to attract new help ... Going back to 2002, our dispatchers average over 16,000 calls a year," Police Chief Jason Wood told the council. "Their training requirements are much higher than your typical job that you would have in this area, the responsibilities and certain much certainly much higher."
 
The starting pay had been $14.73; the new amount starts at the 21-25 year step of $17.45 and leaves in place the next two steps of $18.31 and $19.31. 
 
The initial order had a single rate but was changed so as not to affect two dispatchers who were at the high end of the compensation plan.
 
Councilors asked if even that was enough. Wood said he lost one dispatcher recently for a position in Pittsfield that pays $7 more than the new rate but he thought this action might staunch the flow. 
 
"Shockingly enough, it's still the lowest in the area at $17.45 an hour. ... I think at some point, we're going to have to revisit this, but this is kind of an emergency," he said. "It's critical right now. My numbers in dispatch are really low." 
 
Mayor Thomas Bernard said he anticipated the salary steps being considered as part of a future review of all pay scales. The city has applied for a Community Compact grant from the state for that work, which was discussed by the council earlier this year. But this classification change simply couldn't wait, he said.
 
"This is a critical issue for both recruitment and retention. And I think we know that the dispatchers in many cases are the frontline and, for many people, the first point of contact with the department, so making sure that we have people who are trained, who are professionals who are dedicated to the work and are able to feel well compensated in their service to the city is critically important," he said. "I think what we're seeing is this is an area with a lot of loss."
 
Councilors Keith Bona and Wayne Wilkinson, who had a son and daughter, respectively, who worked as dispatchers heartily endorsed the pay raise. 
 
"I don't thing $17.45 is enough," said Wilkinson. "If you want to say $24, I'm all for it."
 
Bona said it was a start "but I'm sure it's not going to be the answer."
 
He pointed out that the council had been told during budget season that police officers and firefighters were being used to fill in on dispatch and being paid overtime to do so. 
 
"So what we're paying them for overtime is considerably more than what we're paying someone to sit at dispatch that is their specific job," he said. "So in one sense, we're wearing down the other departments."
 
Bona asked that the council be provided with the cost breakdown for using overtime compared to the new wage rate.
 
Wilkinson said the low wages for dispatchers was only the tip of the iceberg, noting how the city has had difficulty in attracting employees such as an assessor.
 
Councilor comments echoed what retired Sgt. James Burdick had said during hearing of visitors about critical role dispatchers play in communicating between public safety and emergency personnel, in aiding people in dire circumstances, and sending people into dangerous situations. 
 
Burdick, who served more than 36 years on the force, has been working as a dispatcher at the low rate.
 
"To me, that's the biggest insult ever," he said. "I stay there because I'm loyal to the city of North Adams as a police officer and now as a dispatcher. I think it's high time the city addressed that issue."
 
Burdick said dispatch has lost three or four "very competent, highly trained dispatchers" because they could make more elsewhere. And, he noted, he could make more working at Walmart "and I'm not putting anybody's life in jeopardy."
 
In other business, the council approved the appropriation of $64,905.65 from the Parking Meter Reserve Account to purchase a 2022 Chevrolet Tahoe through the Greater Boston Police Council, a collective purchasing service.
 
The four-wheel drive truck from Liberty Chevrolet of Wakefield will replace the fire chief's 2012 vehicle, which will now be used by the deputy chief. Bernard said they had investigated a hybrid option but it was deemed unsuitable because of the conditions the truck is expected to operate under. However, the Police Department is looking into hybrid cruisers that might be offset with a Green Communities grant. 
 
The council also approved a minor change in ward lines made because of Census data and heard from the new director of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Kristy Edmunds. Several other issues that are still in committee were postponed and a tax classification hearing was set for Nov. 9.

Tags: dispatchers,   wages,   

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Memorial Hockey Game Honors Memory of Marc Parrott

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

Holly Parrott meets with players on the ice before the start of Friday's game.
 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The scoreboard at the Boys and Girls Club showed that the Gold team earned a 6-2 win over the Purple team.
 
But the only number that really mattered was the one on the backs of every player on both teams: 34.
 
Twenty friends of Pittsfield native Marc Parrot got together to play a memorial hockey game in his honor on Friday evening.
 
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