‘Clearing the air’

Published 5:47 pm Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

GATESVILLE – As discussion expands on important issues in Gates County, so does the opportunity for misinformation to surface.

While he stressed that other opinions are highly valued, Gates County Manager Tim Wilson said he wanted to “clear the air” over what he deemed as inaccurate information circulating among local residents in regards to a possible plan for the county to purchase 145 acres of property across from the high school/community center for economic development.

He also provided updates on bringing 911 Dispatch back to the county by the end of February. In that update, he scolded those who criticized the help that Perquimans County is currently providing while Gates works to reopen its dispatch center.

Additionally, Wilson addressed the possibility of state-mandated regionalization of 911 dispatch.

Wilson initiated a meeting last week with this newspaper to discuss these issues.

Land purchase

On the topic of land purchase, Wilson said he felt the county needed to do so in an effort to provide economic growth to go hand-in-hand with stimulating the tax base.

“Without expanding the tax base, the only other option the commissioners have to generate funds needed to operate county services is property taxes. Nobody wants to see those increase,” he said. “Economic/commercial business growth keeps the money that local citizens are spending elsewhere inside Gates County.

He added that the property is an investment in the county’s future. Having that land in the county’s hands will allow for “controlled development.”

“It’s a win-win for everybody involved,” he stressed. “Plus, it can lend itself for the county should the need arise to add public uses. There are already public uses there with the school, the community center, and the library.”

Whatever does happen there, Wilson said it won’t occur overnight.

“You’ve got to have a plan for the long haul,” he noted. “Expectations shouldn’t be that there will be three new businesses out there by the end of the year. It’s a much more methodical process…you think it through, you plan it out, and you do it right.

“The [commissioners] have the desire to see this county grow and prosper,” Wilson stated. “They know what needs to be filled and they understand it’s not going to make everybody happy, but as long as you know it’s for the public’s betterment and will help the citizens in the long run, that’s where their focus should be. There will be some short-term pain, but what will that level of pain be down the road if we choose to do nothing now. You can only kick the can down the road so many times. Eventually the road will end.”

He added that the county needs to be looking long-term at wastewater.

“There’s a need for a centralized system that can be expanded for future growth,” Wilson said. “You need to be able to increase [wastewater treatment] capacity to handle future development.”

911 Dispatch

Prior to mid-December, Wilson said the county’s 911 Dispatch had full staffing, seven full-time and a light number of part-time.

“All dispatchers need to be certified and we had a few that were not fully certified, but as long as they were in the process of completing that requirement and were working alongside and under the supervision of a certified dispatcher, they were okay,” Wilson said.

He added that one dispatcher was terminated due to disciplinary action.

“Immediately on the heels of that, two of the other full-time dispatchers immediately resigned, giving no notice,” Wilson explained.

That impact was felt even deeper as it affected those non-certified dispatchers who were being supervised/trained by the three that left due to termination/resignation.

“It was more than losing three dispatchers,” Wilson noted.

“There’s been talk that the dispatcher who was terminated wasn’t notified of that action until the day afterwards. That’s absolutely wrong,” Wilson said. “Then, the sudden resignation of two others put us in a chaotic situation. We were able to first hook up and continue our operations through Chowan County.

“In order to keep our 911 dispatch up and running, we made the move to Perquimans County where we had a MOA (Memorandum of Agreement),” Wilson continued. “That allowed us to have adequate staffing. This wasn’t done as a permanent move, it was moved due to necessity.”

Wilson added that the State E911 Board told him what occurred in Gates County on Dec. 17 was “unprecedented.”

“They had never seen something like that happen before. They were amazed that we were able to keep our service up and running as fast as we did,” Wilson remarked. “This is a service that cannot go uninterrupted. There’s no price you can put on a human life.”

Wilson praised Perquimans County officials for their help while Gates County works to restore 911 operations in Gatesville. He said Perquimans even went as far as to supply dispatchers when those from Gates County didn’t report for their normal shifts in Hertford. But what bothered him the most was the criticism leveled by those within local emergency services about the quality of dispatching of Perquimans employees.

“That upset me; they can say what they want about me, I have a tough bark, but that criticism of another professional is uncalled for,” Wilson said. “Perquimans County has provided us with very professional services. They provided a dispatcher who volunteered to handle our calls on Christmas Day when our dispatcher didn’t show up for their shift. And that’s happened more than once.”

Furthermore, Wilson said he approved mileage for Gates County dispatchers to travel to and from Hertford to help them offset their added expenses.

“I did not want their travel to cause any hardships,” he stressed.

Gates County has recently hired three new full-time dispatchers, with one fully certified, and hired a part-timer who is fully certified and two more in training. That level of staffing, plus purchasing new equipment, will hopefully allow 911 dispatching to return to Gatesville by the end of this month.

“We plan to be out of Perquimans County by that time,” Wilson said. “We want our dispatch center to be fully staffed with upgraded equipment.”

He credited Heather Ceney, a full-time dispatcher who is serving as the 911 Dispatch Supervisor, for her work.

“She’s done a very good job under some very trying times; she stepped up and I give her a lot of credit,” Wilson stated.

“Of all the services that the county offers, 911 is one that cannot collapse; those jobs are a matter of life and death,” he added.

Regional 911

Wilson also addressed the future of 911 dispatch, to include a statewide effort to regionalize those services. He is currently engaged in preliminary discussions with other county managers in the region regarding that possibility.

“The state is encouraging, especially the smaller rural counties, to consolidate into regional dispatch centers,” he said. “If you can pool your resources into something just as good or better, I think it’s worth at least looking into.”

Wilson said there is grant money available to cover a feasibility study as well as to help offset the construction costs of such a facility.

“It appears right now that the state is dangling a carrot in front of our noses to spark interest in such a plan,” Wilson noted. “However, on the horizon, the state may start pushing us in that direction if we do not do it voluntarily.”

Wilson said getting ahead of the curve on this issue is better.

“When talking to the other regional county managers, it’s a case of we being able to control our own fate of whom we choose to partner with rather than the state telling us that,” he stressed. “We would have the opportunity to control the narrative.”

However, there are no plans set in stone as of yet.

“As of now, we’re seeing that some of the dispatch centers in our region are controlled by governing bodies while others are controlled by the sheriff’s departments,” Wilson stated. “Is everybody agreeable to participate in what would be a board-managed structure? There would be some cost-saving efficiencies in a regionalization plan.”

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.

email author More by Cal