Idaho County Sheriff's Office jail

The maximum security cell is pictured at the Idaho County Jail, located on the second floor of the Idaho County Courthouse in Grangeville. A labor shortage in Idaho County is making it difficult to fill dispatch and jailer jobs.

GRANGEVILLE – Earlier this month, Idaho County Commissioners penciled a 3 percent across-the-board cost-of-living increase to county employee pay as part of the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

But by itself, even that bump in wages may not make Idaho County 911 dispatch or jailer jobs attractive enough to fill on pay alone.

A labor shortage is pressuring 911 services and budgets in counties to the south.

Valley County is talking about raising starting wages for 911 dispatchers by 6 percent, even as that county is employing five of six Adams County dispatchers to cover shifts at what the McCall Star News described July 18 as “the critically understaffed Valley County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch.”

Not counting the potential pay hike, Valley County is starting dispatchers at $16.77 per hour, according to the Star News, while newbies in Adams County start at $14.97.

In Idaho County, dispatchers start at $12.45.

Earlier this month, the Idaho County Commission also heard a cost estimate for a potential game-changing improvement to emergency dispatch centers across North Central Idaho. On July 9, the commission received a report outlining a rough, worst-case estimate that it could cost almost $40 million to build out new fiber optic internet lines between 911 dispatch centers in Idaho, Clearwater, Latah, Lewis and Nez Perce counties. It’s championed by emergency communication managers who represent counties across North Central Idaho, and who say the new fiber lines would support 911 service upgrades and improve the reliability of the existing 911 system.

A “more realistic approach” – according to that same July 9 report – would trim the build-out cost to roughly $18 million by running the new network lines from poles owned by utility companies such as Idaho County Light and Power, Clearwater Power and Avista where possible, as opposed to placing the lines underground. Underground fiber optic line was estimated to cost up to $100 per foot, and the lines to be developed would span multiple long distances: from Lewiston to Lapwai, Orofino and Moscow; from Moscow to Orofino; from Orofino to Kamiah; from Kamiah to Grangeville; from Lapwai to Nezperce; from Nezperce to Orofino; and from Lapwai to Grangeville.

Not addressed in the July 9 report were costs that would be involved if North Central Idaho dispatch centers are some day to be connected to the centers in Valley and Adams counties.

Upgrading the emergency communications network could allow calls to be automatically rerouted back and forth between dispatch centers to ease “workload stresses,” Idaho County disaster management coordinator Jerry Zumalt told the Free Press July 17. Zumalt oversees the county’s emergency communications budget, which includes local phone line fees that could be tapped for the build-out, along with federal and state funding.

Dispatch center wages are managed under the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office budget.

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