E-911 dispatch merger studied

Published 11:19 am Monday, December 12, 2011

WINTON – The future is now for emergency dispatch communications in Hertford County.

At their regularly scheduled meeting here last week, the county’s Board of Commissioners discussed the possible consolidation of E-911 services. Currently, emergency services dispatch operations are based within the Ahoskie and Murfreesboro police departments and the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office.

As part of their meeting package, the commissioners had a draft copy of an interlocal agreement between the county and the two municipalities to combine the current E-911 dispatch entities into a single unit operated by the county.

Hertford County Manager Loria Williams said Sheriff Juan Vaughan has been collecting information from surrounding counties regarding the way they handle their E-911 dispatch.

“This (draft agreement) is just a start, a foundation for us to build on,” Williams told the commissioners. “This draft copy has been forwarded to Ahoskie and Murfreesboro (officials). If this is approved it will consolidate E-911 services in Hertford County to one primary answering point.”

To date, Williams said there have been some preliminary meetings between the county, Ahoskie and Murfreesboro officials as well as Hertford County Emergency Management.

Williams said the reasoning behind consolidating E-911 services in the county is pending legislation in July of next year that deals with certification and staffing requirements for emergency dispatch communications.

“It will require a considerable amount of investment on the budgets of counties and towns as it relates to emergency communications,” Williams stated.

She added that the State E-911 Board has grant incentives for counties with more than one emergency dispatch point in an effort to spark the idea of consolidation.

“The time is now for grant money that will build your (emergency dispatch/communications) center from the ground up,” Williams stressed, adding that Burke County just received $7.1 million for such a project. “Time is of the essence here. We have until February to put together a grant request for this pot of money.”

Williams did admit there were concerns with this plan as far as staffing the center; the state money currently coming in to the three current dispatch centers and the equipment those three operations have. If the draft plan is approved, town dispatchers that make the move over to the consolidated center will become county employees.

If consolidation occurs, the dispatch center will be controlled by a governing board, which will include the police chiefs from participating municipalities, the county sheriff (or his designee), a representative of Hertford County EMS, a representative of the Hertford County Fireman’s Association, the county’s Emergency Management Director, town council member(s) or designees of the participating municipalities and a county commissioner or their designee.

The consolidated center will have an E-911 Director, as appointed by the county manager.

Funding of the center will come from 911 fees, grants and funds provided by the county and the towns.

“You (commissioners) can decide that the towns don’t pay into it; that the E-911 fund is all that’s necessary,” Williams said. “We won’t know what the expenses for a consolidated E-911 center will be until we get it up and running. I’d rather see us consolidate this now on our terms rather than allowing the state to come in three years from now and telling us how we need to do this.”

The pending requirements will affect the number of dispatchers working at any given time as well as their certification and training.

“It’s going to be a lot different than what we’re doing now,” Williams noted. “If we continue like we all are now, each town and the county will have new capital outlay and personnel costs per this legislation. If we consolidate, the lead agency, which would be the county, will bear the lion’s share of the costs. There will be a cost share with Ahoskie and Murfreesboro based proportionally on population.”

“We have discussed this and we want to see how this will shape up for the betterment of the county and the towns,” said Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh who attended Monday’s commissioners’ meeting.

Commission Chairman Curtis Freeman asked if there has been consideration given by Ahoskie and/or Murfreesboro to have their police departments staffed at night (to handle any walk-ins) should this dispatch consolidation occur.

Commissioner Ronald Gatling asked about the existing equipment at the three current dispatch centers. He noted recent upgrades to the communications equipment at the Ahoskie Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office and wanted to know if those devices would be used at the consolidated dispatch center.

“It can be transferred if you see fit to do so,” Williams answered.

Williams encouraged at least two commissioners attend the upcoming planning meetings concerning this proposed consolidation. She said progress updates on this issue will be given at each upcoming meeting of the commissioners.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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