- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - When they called for closure of two of Vermont’s four 911 call-answering stations, officials from Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration projected the state would save $1.7 million.

But now it appears some of that savings will be lost, for this fiscal year anyway, with workers at the closed stations being paid overtime and mileage to travel across the state to the two remaining dispatch centers.

The call-answering and dispatch centers were consolidated effective last week, when stations in Derby and Rutland were closed and those in Williston and Rockingham were expanded, officials said.

“If you add up all the collateral costs generated as a consequence of this decision, it substantially eats into any projected savings, at least in the short term,” said former state Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, who pushed for one of the stations to be located in Derby when he represented the Essex-Orleans district. Illuzzi now is a lobbyist for the Vermont State Employees’ Association, which has opposed the cuts.

Administration Secretary Justin Johnson and Capt. Donald Patch, chief of staff with the Vermont State Police, agreed that there would be short-term costs connected with the transition, but both said the state would save money in the long run, and likely would see some savings this year.

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety and the state employees’ union struck an agreement under which workers from the Derby and Rutland stations are being invited to commute to those in Williston and Rockingham for up to six months. Enticements include overtime for the time spent commuting, the state’s standard mileage rate of 57.5 cents per mile, and a $1,000 quarterly bonus.

The aim is to cover some of the increased staffing needed at the two still-open stations. Patch said “a couple” had agreed to make the trip from Derby to Williston - a round-trip of more than 170 miles - for “a couple of weeks.” Some will be traveling from Rutland to Williston and or Rutland to Rockingham, but Patch could not provide exact numbers or duration.

Sixteen jobs in Rutland and 14 in Derby will disappear, while 10 each will be added in Williston and Rockingham, bringing the call-taking and dispatch staff to 56.

The $1.7 million in savings was the figure projected by Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn in testimony to Vermont lawmakers last spring. Both Flynn and Patch said Wednesday that even with the costs of the transition, the department will be able to accommodate the $1.7 million budget cut. Patch said savings on existing vacancies would help.

“This was taken out of my FY (fiscal year) ‘16 budget when we started the year,” Flynn said. “This is what I’m going to dance with here.”

Steve Howard, the VSEA’s executive director, said the union had recommended vacancy savings - leaving open jobs unfilled - as a substitute for the $1.7 million budget reduction the administration was looking for from the Department of Public Safety. He argued the savings could have been accomplished without the disruption of closing the two stations.

“I have a feeling this is going to be a huge disaster,” Howard said of the cuts. “I would be surprised if this doesn’t get reversed at some point.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide