By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Hill County officials say they are ready to pursue binding mediation to resolve the contentious issue of whether enhanced-911 dispatching should be located at the Havre Police Department or the Hill County Detention Center.
Meanwhile, a newly formed city e-911 committee held its first meeting Tuesday to work on submitting a plan to the state that would create a separate e-911 jurisdiciton within the city limits.
The committee was formed after the Havre City Council voted on Feb. 22 to empower city officials to move forward with their own e-911 plan.
It was the latest turn in a conflict between city and county officials about the location of e-911 dispatching. Citing cost, the joint city-county 911 board in January had reversed a 2-year-old decision to place the dispatch center at the city, choosing instead to use the detention center.
"I am ready to go to mediation, as long as it is binding," Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said Tuesday. "Whatever the mediators choose for (dispatch) consolidation, I will stick to it. I am 100 percent ready to go."
Szudera said he has not spoken to anyone at the city about it but hopes city officials will likewise be willing to go to mediation.
Hill County Commissioner Mike Anderson said he agrees with Szudera.
"I would be willing to look at mediation," he said today. "The only stipulation I would have is that it would have to be binding, because otherwise it would just be a waste of our time."
Anderson said the county commissioners have contacted the Montana Consensus Council, a Helena-based organization that could provide mediation.
"The first step obviously would be to talk with the city and get an agreement signed up front to abide by the council's decision," Anderson said.
The Concensus Council did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said the council's services would cost money, but he did not know what the fee would be. He said the commissioners have not yet made a formal request.
"They actually come in and work with both sides and come up with a workable outcome that's in the best interests of the public," he said.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said today he has not been contacted by county officials about mediation but is open to the possibility of negotiations. He said the city is drafting a letter to county officials regarding negotiations.
"We're always open for negotiations," Rice said. "We have been since Day One."
Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel said Tuesday he had no comment on the prospects of continuing negotiations with the county.
The city's e-911 committee, which is made up of representatives from the Havre City Council and city departments, reviewed a draft version of the plan that would allow the city's dispatch center to use e-911 dispatching services within the city limits.