NORTH ADAMS — With pay starting at less than $15 per hour — it’s a rate that city officials say is lower than other Berkshire cities and towns — North Adams is struggling to keep dispatchers.
“We just recently lost a dispatcher, a good dispatcher, who was with us for six months, who went down to Pittsfield for seven dollars more an hour,” Police Chief Jason Wood told the City Council on Tuesday night.
At its meeting, the council unanimously voted pass to a second reading of the ordinance to increase the starting pay to $17.45 per hour. Even with the approximately $3-per-hour bump to starting pay, “shockingly enough, it’s still the lowest in the area, at $17.45 per hour,” Wood said.
James Burdick, a retired city police sergeant, is a 911 dispatcher and is paid less than $15 per hour.
“To me, that’s the biggest insult ever,” he said. He has seen dispatchers leave for the same job elsewhere — for higher pay.
“I could go to Pittsfield right now ... and start at $19.90 per hour,” he said.
Councilors expressed support for raising the starting wage.
“Do we know this is enough?” Councilor Benjamin Lamb asked.
“I think at some point were going to have to revisit this,” Wood said. “My numbers in dispatch are really low.”
He added: “Certainly, I think at some point, probably after the ... administration switch, we should probably revisit this again.”
Councilor Keith Bona echoed Wood.
“This is a start,” he said, “but I’m sure it’s not going to be the answer.”
Bona’s son used to work for the city as a dispatcher, and since has moved on to work in dispatch for the state police. It’s a difficult job, Bona said.
“He’s been on the phone, and it’s the last person that person has talked to because they did not make it until the ambulance came. He’s been on the phone involving car accidents that the person’s spouse has passed and he’s trying to tell them how to keep them alive. Not everyone can deal with that.”
Dispatch pay is “only the tip of the iceberg,” Councilor Wayne Wilkinson said.
“Sooner or later, the city has to sit down and look at their employees and give them at least the same compensation as other people get in other communities,” he said. The city lost an assessor, for example, who now makes a higher wage elsewhere, Wilkinson said.
There has been discussion about reviewing the city’s classification and compensation plans, Mayor Tom Bernard noted.
“I think this is simply one that can’t wait,” he said.