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Board approves E-911 merger

WINTON – There will be no loss of employment status among current dispatchers upon the planned merger of the three current emergency communication outlets in Hertford County.

At their meeting here last week, the Hertford County Board of Commissioners were presented with an updated version of an interlocal agreement for the consolidation of E-911 service locations in the county. That agreement also deals with the creation of an E-911 Communications Governance Board.

In essence, the interlocal agreement establishes a joint agency between the county and the towns of Ahoskie and Murfreesboro to operate a combined public safety communications system and center for the answering and dispatching of emergency responders. That joint agency will replace the current system of three communications centers operating independently.

There was some concern over how to treat the current dispatchers working with the Ahoskie and Murfreesboro police departments in regard to the seniority they have built over the years.

Hertford County Manager Loria Williams told the commissioners that contingent upon the level of state funding, the consolidated communications center will be staffed by 12 employees, working rotating shifts.

“That means all current employees working communications with the county and in Ahoskie and Murfreesboro will be retained,” Williams said. “It was also the E-911 Study Committee’s desire that no one take a pay cut and that the time (seniority) they had at each of the three entities will carry forward.”

According to the interlocal agreement, all employees of Hertford County E-911 Communications will be county employees and will fall under the management of the yet to be appointed E-911 Director. Added to the agreement was that all full-time employees of the towns in the positions of telecommunicators will be retained by the county with transfer of town seniority, longevity, leave balances or other benefits in accordance with county personnel policies in place at the time of hire with Hertford County E-911 Communications.

Another upgrade to the draft agreement was the addition of two members to the Governance Board – a representative of the Town of Ahoskie Fire Department (the only paid squad in the county) and a member at-large as appointed by that board.

Others on the Governance Board include the police chiefs of Ahoskie and Murfreesboro, the county sheriff (or his designee), a representative of Hertford County EMS, a representative of the Hertford County’s Fireman’s Association, the county’s Emergency Management Director, town council member(s) or their designees from Ahoskie and Murfreesboro and a county commissioner or his designee.

“We discussed this project back in December and that this endeavor is on a fast track,” said Williams, further explaining that state funds from the North Carolina E-911 Board are available to Hertford County to consolidate the three emergency dispatch centers.

To date, the E-911 Study Committee has met three times to iron out the interlocal agreement. Commissioners Curtis Freeman and Bill Mitchell represent the board on that committee.

Earlier this month, the local study committee visited E-911 centers in Northampton and Pasquotank counties to develop ideas on how Hertford County should proceed on this project.

“At our last meeting (of the study committee) we felt it is imperative that we develop and have this interlocal agreement approved by each of the three entities before we proceed with the next step of bringing in a consultant to help us prepare the grant application for state funds,” Williams said. “That application is due in April.”

Williams said it was to her understanding that the Ahoskie Town Council has approved the agreement and that the Murfreesboro Council was scheduled to discuss the measure at their next meeting (Tuesday, Feb. 28).

Williams reminded the board that the funds associated with this project are part of the monthly E-911 surcharge that Hertford County and statewide residents pay on their land line and cellular telephones. That pot of money accrues monthly interest.

She added that Rockingham County and Burke County both recently applied for such funds to build E-911 communication centers and were awarded grants in the $7 million to $8 million range.

“We’d certainly like to get in on that right now and not wait,” Williams said. “When more people begin to know about this money, the shorter that pot is going to become. We want to make our application by April.”

Even though consolidation of multi communication points within a single county is not yet mandated by the state, Williams said everything she is hearing at the state level appears to indicate that it will become reality sooner rather than later.

“It’s coming, we’re going to be made to do this somewhere down the line; I think it’s to our benefit to do this now at a time when we’re not told how to do it,” she stressed.

Williams also pointed out the need for the county to hire a consultant to help guide local officials through the process.

“I will try my best to accommodate those consulting fees within our current budget or in combination with the sheriff’s budget,” Williams said.

“It’s been great working with the towns and our Sheriff on this project,” said Mitchell. “There was some early prognosis that there could be some tension over this proposed merger, but there’s been no evidence of that. Everybody has worked together for the greater cause.”

The commissioners were in unanimous accord and approved the interlocal agreement without objection.

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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