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City to raise pay for 911 operators, police dispatchers amid vacancies

Monday, September 12, 2022 by Emma Freer

The city of Austin will increase pay rates for 911 call takers and police dispatchers for the second time in five months in an effort to stanch rising vacancy rates. 

Human Resources and Civil Services Director Joya Hayes announced the change in a Sept. 1 memo to City Council. 

The raise, which will take effect Sept. 25, stems from a series of recent Council decisions. In June, Council members directed city staff to adjust pay rates for both positions so that the median pay rate would fall within the top quartile of the market rate, citing a market study conducted in 2021. 

Mary Castillo, who has worked as a 911 operator and police dispatcher for the Austin Police Department for nearly 19 years, voiced her support for the measure at a June Council meeting

“It was a rare thing for calls to (be put on) hold during my first 18 years here, and now it’s a rare thing if they don’t,” she said. “Can you imagine needing lifesaving assistance, managing to get to a phone and call 911, only to be placed on hold? That’s not an acceptable service level. It’s a dangerous and detrimental one, and it’s your new normal.”

In August, Council members voted to increase the living wage for all city employees from $15 per hour to $20 per hour – roughly $41,600 annually – as part of the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget, citing staffing shortages across departments. They also approved a 4 percent across-the-board pay raise for city staff. 

Among 911 operators, there are currently 57 filled positions and 48 vacancies, according to the memo. Later this month, entry-level 911 operators will see their hourly wage increase from $20 to $22.85, or roughly 14 percent. Among the 57 filled positions, 27 operators belong to this salary bracket.

In addition, 24 more experienced operators will see their hourly wage rise to $23.76 as a result of the 4 percent across-the-board pay raise included in the FY 2022-23 budget. Three 911 operators were hired after April 1 and thus aren’t eligible for this benefit.

Among the police dispatchers, there are currently 55 filled positions and 20 vacancies. Entry-level dispatchers will see their hourly wage increase from $21.81 to $24.42, or roughly 12 percent, when the rate adjustments take effect. Among the 55 filled positions, 34 police dispatchers belong to this salary bracket.

In addition, 31 more experienced police dispatchers will see their hourly wage rise to $25.40 as a result of the across-the-board pay raise. Similarly, three dispatchers were hired after April 1 and won’t receive this same bump. 

The city last increased entry-level pay for 911 operators and police dispatchers in May. Since then, the entry-level pay for both positions has increased 22 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Along with the pay raise, the city also implemented two other initiatives: an $1,800 annual stipend for 911 call takers and police dispatchers with a TCOLE telecommunicator certification, and a one-time $3,000 retention bonus, paid out over 12 months. 

Together, these changes “have addressed concerns and (have) shown success in recruiting more candidates for positions,” according to a July 28 memo from Hayes to Council. 

APD will report back to Council in December on its progress filling vacant positions for 911 operators and police dispatchers.   

Photo licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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