AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some Austinites are already getting put on hold when dialing 911, data shows, and a manager inside the emergency communications center said the problem could quickly get worse.

“Our calls are holding a lot longer on 911 and a lot of that has to do with the pay,” said Assistant Manager Mayra Toro.

The city announced new wages for emergency telecommunicators this month after a third party completed a salary analysis. It resulted it 90% of employees getting raises. A breakdown of raises, as the city’s Human Resources department told us, is below.

  • 70% – 100 employees saw an increase of 5% – 12%
  • 20% – 29 employees saw between a 1% – 4% increase
  • 10% – 14 employees saw no increase due to their current salary being over market

Toro said at least nine people who aren’t happy with the decision have approached managers about leaving. She said one already resigned, and they can’t afford to lose any more.

“It would be very hard to continue the service that we have,” she said, citing a 34% vacancy rate in the emergency communications division. “Hold times are going to get longer and longer and longer if that continues, and we just can’t do that.”

According to call center data Toro shared with us, on May 15 between 10 and 11 p.m., 33 people were on hold for at least two minutes. Toro said she’s seen people put on hold for things like active burglaries, reckless drivers with weapons and medical calls.

During May’s Public Safety Commission Meeting, the Austin Police Department said response times are currently two minutes over the target goal. Toro added only 86% of 911 calls are getting answered within 10 seconds.

According to our previous reporting, in 2019, 99% of calls were answered within 10 seconds.

“People could die. People are holding on 911. You’re calling us at the most important time of your life,” she said.

“As we address this national staffing crisis, we are committed to creating strategies that address pay and benefits to recruit and retain employees and maintain a culture of appreciation for the work they do,” a city spokesperson told us in an email. This includes looking into bonuses and stipends for emergency communications employees.

KXAN has submitted a public information request for the full market study, on which the city said it based the new wages. In the meantime, the HR department provided the following response regarding the study’s details.

“The budget request asked us to look at market and retention. The Market study focuses on our entry-level rates to ensure that the salary reflects the competitive salary. The City hired a 3rd party consultant to do a national analysis of the information and establish the market. Once we received the data, we reviewed its impact on the current pay structure, any compression between supervisors and subordinates, and how the new structure affected employees. Once this review was completed, the study results were shared with APD executives. After the results were communicated, classification changes were made and the pay increases were implemented.”