911 board endorses county plan

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Allen County’s 911 Advisory Board recommended the county pull its 911 service and dispatch center from the Iola Police Department.
Now the issue goes to Allen County commissioners, who will decide where the center will go and how it will be funded — or if it should be moved at all.
The advisory board’s recommendation at its annual meeting Wednesday echoes a similar endorsement by a committee of Allen County’s police and fire chiefs and Rhonda Fulton, director of the dispatch center at IPD. Both groups unanimously recommend the county operate a central dispatch center.
On Wednesday, advisory board members Mike Russell, Phillip Merkel, Alan Weber and Wayne Turner (Dewayne Smith was absent) agreed with the reasoning for relocating the 911 center, citing space and security concerns within IPD.
There is urgency to the issue.
Allen County Sheriff Tom Williams pointed out the availability of $146,000 in grant funding to purchase new 911 equipment. The county has until Dec. 31 to decide whether to accept the grant, Williams said.
“It makes no logical sense to buy this equipment and put in the present center only to turn around and pull it out again if it’s moved,” Williams said.
If the county decides to keep the center at IPD, the new equipment would be installed there, Williams said.
Moving the dispatch center would change how it is funded. Under the current agreement, Iola and Allen County each fund half the dispatch center’s budget — pegged at $380,000 for 2010. If the center is pulled from the city, Iola would no longer be on the financial hook.
Weber said the county is considering removing its existing 2-mill ad valorem tax levy for 911 services in lieu of a quarter-cent countywide sales tax. Such a proposal would be subject to a countywide vote.
Iola City Administrator Judy Brigham said the city was not opposed to having the dispatch center removed from IPD, but she did have concerns about job security for the existing dispatchers.
“We don’t want to do anything that would hurt the employees,” Merkel said.
Dispatchers Karen Kimball and Scott Stewart queried the advisory board about salary and benefit structure — certain to change if they go from city to county employees.
Would long-time city employees who have accrued hundreds of hours of sick leave lose that if they moved to the county, Stewart asked.
Those issues will be addressed by county commissioners, Weber responded.
Humboldt Police Chief Dan Onnen also asked about other services provided by the center, such as contacting on-call employees from each city for such things as power or water service issues. Would all cities be treated equally?
That’s the plan, advisory board members replied.
“The goal is to have even-handed treatment across the county,” Weber said.
Mark Michael, a paramedic with the Iola Fire Department, asked if Allen County would visit with Neosho County officials about a countywide dispatch center there.
Michael, who served on an advisory board for the Neosho County service from 2002 to 2005, said pulling the center from Chanute led to higher-than-expected operating costs.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Michael said. “There needs to be a lot more investigation before a decision is made.”
Williams, however, said the Neosho County sheriff and 911 dispatch director are both pleased with their countywide system.
The advisory board also endorsed the $380,000 spending plan for 2010, although the funding would change if the center were relocated.