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Publish Date: 4/26/2005

Kristine Mason works at the Longmont 911 dispatch Monday. Mason is bilingual, which is crucial for Spanish-speaking callers. Times-Call/Hunter McRae

City rewards bilingual workers
Stipend would benefit Spanish, ASL speakers

LONGMONT — More than 700 times last year, 911 calls for help in Longmont came in Spanish.

Recognizing that the number of Spanish-only speakers living in Longmont is growing, city officials are launching a program to pay bonuses to city workers, including emergency 911 dispatchers, who speak more than one language in serving the public.

Officials believe up to 90 workers across the city will apply for the program. Workers can earn up to an extra $100 monthly under the $73,000-a-year effort. Spanish and American Sign Language are the most commonly used alternatives.

“When you’re upset and in danger, you tend to speak the language that you use most regularly,” said Bill Scott, the monolingual director of the city’s 911 call center. “The importance of being able to be bilingual has increased. It has a pretty significant importance to us.”

Tonight, the Longmont City Council is expected to approve a contract with Front Range Community College to test workers who volunteer for the program.

Scott said of the city’s 16 dispatchers and three supervisors, four are fluent in Spanish. Most of the others are able to understand some Spanish, he said. No consideration is given to bilingual ability when scheduling, he added, since that’s done on a seniority basis.

Dispatchers are offered the opportunity to attend a two-week intensive Spanish-language training class when they start with the city, and Scott said he hopes the new stipends will encourage more workers to attend.

City officials also hope to encourage police officers, customer service clerks and other workers who regularly aid the public to learn Spanish and sign up for the program.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 40,934 people in Boulder County who speak a language other than English at home. In Longmont, about 17 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home, about the same rate as nationally, according to the Census.

“Each employee will have to successfully pass a fluency test in order to qualify,” said Jenise Larkins, the city’s human resources director. “Tier 1 employees use their skill on an occasional basis, Tier 2 employees use their skill on a frequent basis, and Tier 3 employees use their skill on a frequent basis and provide either written translation or interpretation skills at public meetings.”

Larkins said she expects employees from most city departments will apply.

In Boulder County, non-English speakers who call 911 are connected to a dispatcher who then calls a service known as the Language Line, whose interpreters speak 150 languages and dialects. Last year, Scott said, Longmont used Language Line 736 times — 733 times for Spanish, twice for Mandarin Chinese and once for Japanese.

Language Line is paid for through a surcharge on all phone lines, Scott said.

He said those calls were in addition to those directly handled by bilingual dispatchers. The city is currently hiring a new dispatcher, and bilingual skills are “desirable.”

“They don’t have to be absolutely fluent, but a good working ability with the language helps,” Scott said.

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.

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