By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A Havre City Council committee wants the city to move forward with a plan to locate the primary e-911 dispatch center at the Havre police station.
It endorsed a revised plan for emergency dispatching that Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel says will save the city and county money.
But the plan isn't likely to resolve the conflict between the city and Hill County over which should house the primary e-911 dispatch center. Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said today he still stands behind the vote last month by the city-county 911 committee to locate the dispatch center at the jail. Most city members abstained from that vote.
Another 911 committee member, county sanitarian Clay Vincent, said today he does not believe the City Council has the legal standing to get involved with e-911.
"Probably the biggest thing the city is forgetting about is that we have a 911 board," Vincent said. "We have an agreement since 1987 that is running the program. The City Council has not been involved in this particular program for 17 years, and all of the sudden they feel like they are going to jump into it. I don't think they have the legal backing."
Meanwhile, the state agency that oversees e-911 plans in Montana has gotten involved in the dispute.
State 911 program manager Becky Berger wrote a letter to Barthel, Szudera and Vincent saying the county 911 board will not be able to amend the 2002 plan to move the call center to the county jail. The plan will need to be completely rewritten, she said.
She also said that each plan must be accompanied by written approval from all participating public safety agencies. If the city and the county are unable to reach an agreement and obtain the required signatures, Berger recommended that Havre and Hill County draft separate plans for two call centers.
Vincent said the committee is already drafting a new plan to submit to the state.
"My stance on this is the stance I've had from the beginning, when the plan was changed by the 911 committee," Szudera said today. "My stance is to combine dispatch and go with one system at the Hill County Sheriff's Office."
The three-member Police and Fire Committee will ask the full City Council to consider the issue on Feb. 22.
Havre originally was selected to house the e-911 call center. But after a new estimate showed the city needed to spend $100,000 to be ready, the 911 committee voted Jan. 11 to house it at the Hill County Detention Center, where the 911 call center is located. E-911 allows dispatchers to see the location of the caller, enabling faster response time in emergencies.
Private citizens donated money to cover the city's additional costs and new equipment has been purchased.
At Wednesday's meeting, Barthel proposed that the city and the county move forward with a three-workstation plan for e-911. Two dispatch workstations would be located at the city dispatch center and one at the county jail. The city would be the primary and the county would be the backup.
The 2002 e-911 decision called for having four dispatch workstations, two at the city and two at the county, with the city being the primary and the county being the backup. A three-station system would save taxpayer dollars, Barthel said.
Nearly $360,000 has been collected from a surcharge on local phone bills for the service. Barthel said that after the system was up and running at both the county jail and the city, about $209,000 would be left in the fund to pay for future upgrades.
"The taxpayers have paid for this," Barthel said. "It's a service that is needed."
Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said the three-workstation system "makes absolute sense."
Vincent said today the 911 board considered such a proposal and rejected it because it would create a situation where taxpayers are paying for duplicate services. The 911 board's plan would have all e-911 dispatching at the detention center.
"If you look at a lot of the cities across the state, they have one dispatch center for the city and the county," he said. "This is not something the board takes lightly and has looked at for a very long time."
Police and Fire Ccommittee chair Rick Pierson said that, because of the 2002 decision, the city has moved forward with e-911.
"If we decide to go with the county, do we mothball $125,000 in state-of-the-art equipment?" he said. "And get rid of fine dispatchers?"
Dispatch supervisor Janet Haas presented information about the 911 calls received throughout the entire county between Jan. 1 and Dec. 3 of last year. Of the 1,936 calls received, 65 percent originated within the city limits and 35 percent originated in the county.
City Council member Jack Brandon said the primary call center should be located in the area with the highest traffic.
"I feel the most important thing is to have the e-911 facility where most of the dispatching is done," Brandon said.
City Council member Dana West said she has leaned both ways on the subject but thinks the center should be located near the emergency workers responding to the calls.
"To have dispatch closest to the people that are sent out - it's very important to me," West said.
County resident Bob Kaul, who helped generate public support for the bond issue that paid for the detention center, said the facility was built to house 911 and that city and county officials should follow through on their promise to the taxpayers.
Dr. Stuart Reynolds said he supports the idea of consolidating dispatch services at one location. He said the debate is important to all county residents, whether they reside within the city or not.
"I personally can't understand why a county of 17,000 people needs to pay for two e-911 dispatch centers," he said.
Mayor Bob Rice said the issue has been very controversial and that he has received more comments about it than any other issue he has addressed as mayor. He asked the committee members to support Barthel's plan.
"I'm asking you to follow the plan that we signed two years ago," he said.