Dispatch center contingency plan tabled again

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FARMINGTON – Commissioners moved again to table a contingency plan proposed for the Franklin County Regional Communications Center at a meeting Thursday morning, as well as reversing a previous decision and opting in to federal paid leave associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The contingency plan developed by dispatchers would, once activated, split the center’s staff into two, four-person teams each of which would stay at the center for two weeks at a time. Dispatchers proposed the contingency out of concerns for a workforce they said is limited: seven dispatchers filling eight shifts, as well as three trainees. At Thursday’s meeting, county officials said that another dispatcher could be asked to self-quarantine due to a potential secondary exposure to COVID-19.

While 911 calls would be rerouted to the dispatchers Augusta or another center, dispatcher Dawn Tolman told commissioners Thursday, those dispatchers didn’t have access to the same channels and couldn’t respond at the same level that Franklin County could. Additionally, fewer dispatchers could mean not being able to answer the center’s business line, Tolman said, which some people did call with emergencies.

The contingency plan was initially presented to county commissioners on March 31, where it was unanimously approved. At the April 6, commissioners raised objections to the plan, including that men and women would be sharing amenities, that similar plans were not being implemented for other county facilities, such as the sheriff’s office or the jail, and that the contingency plan would effectively be paying dispatchers to not work for two weeks. The use of a privately-owned camper to provide a shower was also identified as a liability issue, although the idea of having the county rent a trailer/camper was considered.

At Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner Charlie Webster of Farmington reiterated that he didn’t like the plan as proposed, citing issues with treating some county employees differently than others as well as paying dispatchers to stay home. Commissioner Terry Brann of Wilton said that he believed that the state or other county dispatch facilities would help backup Franklin County if necessary. He suggested tabling the plan until it was needed, saying that he believed it could be put together quickly if necessary.

Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong said that he wanted a plan in place. That opinion was shared by Acting Communication Director Amanda Simoneau, who said that other dispatcher centers were facing the same issues that Franklin County’s was, making it potentially difficulty to loan staff or push calls.

“If this PSAP [Public Safety Answering Point] does not stay staffed, it is a risk to our citizens and first responders that are our responsibility,” Simoneau said.

The vote to table the plan was 2 to 1, with Webster and Brann in favor and Barker opposed.

After the vote, Webster said that was willing to meet with dispatchers or other officials to work on a plan for the center.

Commissioners also voted unanimously to reverse a previous decision made at the March 31 meeting, opting into a federal paid leave program for the county’s emergency responders. That change will allow the county to be reimbursed to pay the salaries of employees that potentially had secondary contact with COVID-19, requiring self-quarantine. Commissioners agreed that it was unfair not to pay employees if the county intended to tell them to stay home.

In other business, commissioners voted unanimously to deny a request by the National Correctional Employees Union for hazard pay for corrections officers. The request was made in the form of a letter sent to all counties in the state. Brann and Webster said that they felt offended by the request, as previous contract negotiations had yielded a pay increase for officers at the Franklin County Detention Center.

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