Two people to run Scott County's E-911 center in lieu of hiring director

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A jail administrator and senior communications center staffer will fill the role.

BENTON, Mo. -- Scott County will try operating its E-911 communications center without having a person officially filling the capacity of director.

Instead the county's jail administrator and a senior employee of the E-911 center will both work to oversee the operations.

Presiding Commissioner Jamie Burger didn't term the move a cost-cutting measure, instead calling it a "money-saving effort."

The communications center has been plagued by high turnover in recent months, including the director's position. The last director, Lisa Mullin, was hired near the beginning of the year and put in her resignation late last month.

Now jail administrator John Nelson and senior communications center staffer Missy Bruce will fill that role as part of their job duties.

At the same time, the communications center has been struggling with budget problems due to shortfalls in revenue from a 911 tax levied on landline telephones, which are decreasing in number as more phone users switch to cell phones and discard their traditional lines.

Commissioners are trying to find some way to address the issue of falling revenue. One of the most talked-about solutions among commissioners is a regionalization of 911 services, in which several entities share the costs of operation.

"We're getting real close to having to make some major changes in that 911 system," said Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn.

This year, Scott County will shift $88,800 from general revenue to pay for the communications center's operation. At the start of the year the county cashed in the $58,100 held in reserve for the communications center.

In the midst of the shortfall, the 911 center has struggled with a high turnover rate as employees leave to take better-paying jobs in other jurisdictions.

"It seems like we get them trained and somebody else hires them off at a higher rate," Ziegenhorn said.

Dispatchers in Scott County start at a much lower pay rate than those in the city of Cape Girardeau and in Cape Gir­ar­deau County. Base pay for Scott County dispatchers is $19,200, while Cape Girardeau city dispatchers start at $25,140 and Cape Girardeau County dispatchers start at $24,648.

Burger said the future could be even more bleak when the current half-cent sales tax for law enforcement expires in September 2008. After the tax expires Burger said budget shortfalls of $800,000 in the law enforcement and jail budget and $250,000 in the communications center budget are expected.

An extension was put on the ballot in April but lost in large part due to heavy "no" votes out of Sikeston precincts. Sikeston Mayor Mike Marshall has said he doesn't think the city's voters would support an extension on a future ballot, sunset provision or not.

Commissioners have considered asking for an extension, but Burger said they're not sure yet if they will, or how the request will change from April's proposal, which didn't have a sunset clause.

Burger pushed hard for the tax in the run-up to the April election and still maintains extending the tax is important to maintaining the level of law enforcement the county currently enjoys.

"We've seen a significant removal of people off our streets and into our jail," Burger said.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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