Marion County commissioners hear initial budget requests

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BRENDA CONYERS
In the regular Monday meeting of the Marion County Commission, several departments presented their proposed budgets for 2002.


Among those were Michele Abbott-Becker, communications director, who requested an increase in the communication budget for an additional dispatcher.


Becker explained the duties of a dispatcher, which include taking radio calls from sheriff deputies, emergency vehicles and fire trucks, and on weekends, holidays and after 5 p.m., radio calls for Peabody, Marion, Hillsboro and Florence police departments. They also take radio traffic from Fish and Game and Corps of Engineers. These calls are recorded, as well as the resolution of the calls.


Each police department has added officers to its force, and doubles up on weekends and special events.


Much of the radio traffic from law enforcement officers requires the dispatcher to check licenses, vehicle tags, warrants and other information, with different officers calling in for information at the same time.


Dispatchers also answer administrative phone calls, calls from the public reporting accidents and incidents and asking questions, as well as 911 calls.


With the availability of cell phones, what used to be taken as one call to report an accident, now brings in seven or eight calls.


Each call received must be carefully screened to make sure it is not a different accident, and to acquire any information that might be helpful to emergency services.


Becker said the total number of phone calls answered last year was 36,850. This year, up to July there has been 24,000 phone calls.


In addition to these duties, the clerical duties of dispatchers are also changing as more and more information becomes a part of a state-wide or national computer network.


Becker said just recently misdemeanor warrants are now put online, available to law enforcement all over the United States. This task must be done immediately, as is not something that can wait to be done “when there is time.”


It is possible for a dispatcher to be taking radio calls from a number of officers, and phone calls at the same time.


She also pointed out Communications was the only county department operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


“If someone in another department is sick, the chair can be pushed under the desk and that shift just remains empty.


“That can’t happen in Communications. We have to have someone there all the time.”


Becker said up to this point there was one dispatcher per shift, with Becker acting as a second dispatcher when needed during the day, and another supervisory dispatcher, who fills in for illnesses and vacations and does the training and is available as second on other occasions.


“I am very proud of the people we have,” Becker said. “They do a great job.”


But Becker said she feels it would be in the best interest of the department to add another dispatcher to cover odd hours as a second dispatch.


She said they would try to choose “high volume” hours, realizing crimes don’t happen at certain hours or on certain days.


Becker would also like to see a shift differential offered for second and third shifts.


Later in the meeting, Sheriff Lee Becker presented his proposed budget for the sheriff’s department.


He spoke of needed building repairs, the need of a new copier machine, and a digital camera for taking prisoner pictures and having them online available for officers throughout the country for identification.


The sheriff said the jail was averaging 7.8 prisoners per month right now, which is an increase over past years. With the increase in the number of prisoners, also comes in increase in the cost of meals.


Last year meals cost $44,226.00 at $5.25 per meal. This year, to date, the cost is $22,113.


“Prisoners should break rocks, not taxpayers,” Becker said.


He is looking into other meal options that might be cheaper to tax payers.


Becker is also concerned about this year’s budget in regard to the $10,000 per month cost of animal care for animals taken earlier in the year.


If the animals are kept by the county through the end of the fiscal year, it could put the budget over by $100,000.


Gerald Kelsey, superintendent for Road and Bridge, and Jim Herzet, supervisor, talked with commissioners about the use of signs limiting weight and/ or speed on paved roads.


“Our main objective is to protect our roads,” Commissioner Howard Collett said.


The discussion then turned to the need for ways of enforcing such signs.


It was decided the Road and Bridge officials would meet with Sheriff Becker to discuss enforcement options.


Mike Wederski of Community Corrections presented his proposed budget for the new year.


With a report of increasing number of juvenile and adult offenders, and decreasing funds, Collett asked how long until Wederski’s department would be asking for help from the county.


“Since you brought it up, it could be as soon as next year,” Wederski said.


He said Gov. Bill Graves recently told department heads to be prepared to submit three budget proposals for next year-the first having the same amount as this year, the second having 2 percent less, and the third, 4 percent less.


“Yes,” he reiterated, “it could be as soon as next year.”

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