September 30, 2014   Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner today called on the County’s 911 Center to hire additional staff to cut down on excessive overtime and the organizational deficiencies that may result from unstable staffing and management. A recent audit found that the Center spent more than $2 million on overtime costs last year as a result of chronic understaffing, high turnover and insufficient cross-training.
“Overtime at the 911 Center is a problem that has been consistent and growing, causing excessive expenses, overwhelmed employees and complications in management,” Wagner said. “This is a public safety issue in addition to a dollars-and-cents issue. By hiring additional staff, we will ensure that we provide public safety services in the most effective and efficient way, below the cost that is currently expended.”
The Controller’s audit found that the overtime rate is approximately $5.90 an hour more than the rate of a full-time employee, including benefits. A full-time employee earns $31.12 hourly while the overtime hourly cost is $37.02. As such, the Center could hire 28 additional full-time staff to cover additional needs and still save money (approximately $50,000 to $65,000 per year). Wagner noted that while the dollar savings may seem minimal, the greater benefit is that morale is improved among employees who are no longer overworked or overwhelmed – a serious consideration in one of the most critical and time-sensitive areas of County services.By hiring 28 additional staff, adopting a more aggressive approach to addressing employee turnover, and providing additional cross-training, adequate staffing levels can be achieved and maintained, and overtime hours and costs can be significantly decreased.
The County’s 911 Center operates 24 hours per day, every day of the year, answering calls from 120 municipalities and dispatches to approximately 200 fire departments, 111 police departments and 56 EMS agencies. The Center also serves Allegheny County communities who do not have their own 911 system and opted to be a part of the County’s 911 system. It receives approximately 1.25 million calls annually.
As a result of the Center being left severely understaffed, employees may volunteer or be mandated to work overtime. From 2012 to 2013, overtime hours increased by 33 percent and overtime costs increased by 37 percent, leading to the Center spending $1.6 million on overtime in 2013. The average cost of overtime is $7,300 per employee.
The Center uses a schedule swapping system, allowing employees the opportunity to switch shifts with fellow employees without using a vacation or personal day. The audit also revealed overpayments and challenges in managing staff when shifts are frequently rescheduled.
Due to funding not keeping pace with increasing costs, the County has had to supplement $2 million from its General Fund to operate the Center, which is also the amount that the Center spent on overtime last year. As the number of landlines continues to decrease, the funding gap continues to grow.
Each landline in the County is accompanied by a $1 monthly surcharge that goes directly to the County’s 911 Center. However, a $1 monthly surcharge for each wireless device and Voice over Internet Protocol account goes to the State and then the County is required to apply to receive a portion of that funding. As such, a person with both lines will pay $24 per year; a family of four could pay up to $60 per year.
“In Allegheny County, and counties across Pennsylvania, 911 centers continue to struggle with funding that continues to decrease. While we must continue to advocate for restored and increased funding, we must make the changes that are within the power of this County to make. This audit shows that we can implement changes immediately that will improve productivity and efficiency and save money. This is a no-brainer.”