Dispatcher Johnnie Duke at her station in the Llano County Sheriff’s Office. Duke is one of eight dispatchers who are keeping county communications flowing despite understaffing issues. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey
The Llano County Commissioners Court voted to allow for vacation time rollover for two Sheriff’s Office dispatchers during its regular meeting on Monday, Dec. 12. Understaffing prevents employees from taking their vacation time, which they lose if not scheduled by the end of the year.
Commissioners voted to allow the two dispatchers to use their 2022 vacation time by March 20, 2023. Due to Llano County policy, the vacation days would have been lost and gone unpaid if the commissioners had not approved the rollover.
Understaffing among dispatchers is caused by low pay, high job stress, and the amount of required training, officials said.
“Every year, we see this. Every year, we have dispatchers who are in danger of losing their vacation time,” Emergency Communications manager Doni Whitecotton told DailyTrib.com.
Whitecotton’s department currently has eight dispatchers — two short of being fully staffed. Of those eight, two are in training and cannot work full time and another is on prolonged medical leave, further widening the staffing gap.
A dispatcher must be on duty 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Dispatcher workloads typically increase during the holidays, leading to even more difficulties with taking vacation time.
“Our dispatchers are dedicated to working,” Whitecotton said. “They love working for Llano County, but it is hard when they’re asked to work extra hours and, at the same time, are being told that they may lose their time off.”
Llano County dispatchers’ starting pay is about $16 an hour, which is not competitive with surrounding counties, Whitecotton said. Starting pay in Burnet County is $20.48 an hour. Even so, Burnet County is suffering from the same understaffing problems as Llano County.
Whitecotton is one of the two dispatchers whose vacation time rollover was approved. She had accumulated 46 hours of excess vacation time in 2022 covering shifts.
The original agenda item asked that rollover time be used by Feb. 20, 2023, but Commissioner Peter Jones moved to extend the period to March 20 to give the dispatchers more time.