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Bill would get rid of the Marion County 911 operator residency law

911 dispatchers
Posted at 6:06 PM, Jan 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-20 18:17:23-05

MARION COUNTY — There is a push from the statehouse to help get more 911 operators in the Marion County Communication Center.

The center has faced controversy over wait times and staffing. Now, there's a new bill that lawmakers say will provide relief.

Right now, you must live in Marion County to work there unless they accept a waiver. If the bill becomes law, people from outside Marion County could apply.

"Nothing else gets to be dispatched or sent without the initial call being taken," said Chief Tom Sellas.

Sellas says operators at the Marion County 911 Communication Center are stretched thin, and have been for months.

In December, we exposed callers experiencing a wait time of nearly 19 minutes.

Sellas says staffing and a high call volume led to the delay.

He says they've since beefed up their supervisor policy and are focused on getting more people.

"We just released six fully trained to the floor. We have nine that are in the classroom currently, and we have five that are at the end of their hiring process soon to be put in the classroom. It's gonna get us up to 21 additional personnel ... these numbers are significant and they will help us," said Sellas.

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Senator Jack Sandlin is also trying to help with recruiting.

He wrote Senate Bill 43 which gets rid of the residency law.

"We are in an area where we haven't been before where it's really tough to maintain personnel in all areas of public safety. We have gone through in the last few years and eliminated residency requirements for our police operators [and] firefighters. Our 911 operators are designated as first responders, so we wanted to make sure we included in the so we don't end up in a log jam," said Sandlin.

Sandlin points out that the residency law does not apply to other first responders.

If passed, he hopes the change will help with retention.

"Our telecommunicators are classified as first responders and if it's given to law enforcement or fire, they should have the same option," said Sellas.

So far, the bill has passed the first reading.

The Marion County 911 communication center is hiring. The starting salary is around $47,000 a year.

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