Dispatch center is almost fully staffed but cost of living could cause problems

The dispatch center that responds to 911 calls in Teton County is close to being fully staffed at the start of budget season.

But the high cost of living in and around Jackson Hole may mean it’s not yet out of the woods.

Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr told the Teton County Board of County Commissioners and Jackson Town Council as much during an all-day series of budget meetings Wednesday.

He said his department was budgeting to fully staff the center for the “first time.” That’s a significant step in the recent history of the dispatch operation, which serves the Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Jackson Police Department, Teton County Search and Rescue, Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, the National Elk Refuge and occasionally Grand Teton National Park.

The center has struggled with staffing issues for years and, after Carr’s lobbying, the county commission in 2020 approved an increase in dispatcher pay intended to address the issue.

That extra cash helped, Carr said, but officials’ success in nearly filling the 16-person dispatch center wasn’t “all about the money.” Fifteen positions were filled as of Wednesday.

“It was really about recognizing the job that our dispatchers do,” the sheriff said, adding that working in dispatch is “the most difficult job in law enforcement.”

Budgeting for a fully staffed dispatch center would amount to a 15% increase in the salaries and benefits portion of the sheriff’s office budget, Carr said. Whether that increase is approved will depend primarily on the county commission and Town Council, which are not set to approve any budgets until June.

Staffing the center that responds to 911 calls has been an issue since at least 2013, when then-Sheriff Jim Whalen described the issue as a “crisis.”

Carr took up the mantle about six years later. He lobbied the commission to approve funding for the dispatch center starting in fall 2019, when it was operating at half capacity: eight dispatchers rather than the 16 it requires. Those workers were racking up mandatory overtime to fill shifts and often putting callers on hold to handle bigger emergency calls.

With the dispatch center close to being fully staffed, Carr told elected officials Wednesday that he thought overtime costs seen in prior years would fall.

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