By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Havre Mayor Bob Rice, Police Chief Mike Barthel and Fire Chief Dave Sheppard walked out of an enhanced-911 committee meeting abruptly Tuesday as the committee voted to use the county jail to house the primary e-911 call center.
"You'll have to excuse us, Mr. chair," Rice said as he stood up to leave.
The vote reversed a 2-year-old decision to use the city Police Department.
Enhanced-911 technology identifies the location for each 911 call, speeding emergency response. In order to provide the service, the city and county needed to identify a main call center and choose a service provider, a process that has taken more than four years and has been slowed by disagreements between the two entities, as well as holdups at the state level.
Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera, who chairs the committee, said today the committee will rewrite its plan and submit it to the state as soon as possible, with or without signatures from city officials.
"It will be indicated that it was approved by the board," he said. The committee vote was 3-1. Sheppard cast the lone no vote before standing up to leave. Rice and Barthel did not vote. Nor did Szudera, who votes only to break a tie.
Barthel said today the city is doing research on how to proceed. He declined further comment.
Rice couldn't be reached for comment today.
The committee took several votes Tuesday.
First, Szudera said he'd entertain a motion to locate the primary center at the Hill County Detention Center, with Barthel in charge. Nobody made that motion.
Rice made a motion to locate it at the Police Department. That motion failed 3-4, with the four county representatives on the committee opposing it.
"You're dead ducks going into the water," Rice after that vote.
He noted that the committee has four county members and three city members.
He also complained that one of the county representatives, Bear Paw volunteer fire department chief Gary Gregoire, only came to the meetings when a vote was planned. He said the first time he met Gregoire was at a November meeting when the committee decided to reconsider its previous decision to put the dispatch center at the city.
Rice also said the seat held by county planner Clay Vincent was meant to be held by a community member at large, not someone with county or city ties.
The committee agreed that it was too late to replace Vincent before it voted Tuesday.
Rice said that wasn't his suggestion. "What I suggest: We don't stack the deck," he said.
The committee decided to reconsider the location of the e-911 center after CML Microcircuits Inc., a company that provides hardware for e-911, estimated the city needed $100,000 to $150,000 in upgrades to support enhanced service. The county jail needed only $30,000 to upgrade.
Since then, John and Darlene Sharp donated $100,000 in equipment to the city. The city says it can make up other costs, including purchasing a generator and grounding the building's electrical devices, without using taxpayer money.
"Do you guys understand how long this is going to take?" Barthel asked the committee. The state has already approved a proposal that uses the city location, he said. Taxpayers already pay for the service, through a charge on their phone bills, and they should get it as soon as possible, he said.
Sheppard said he would not sign off on a plan "that goes down the path we're on now."
When Szudera cast the deciding vote against Rice's proposal, he said he had two reasons: the potential for saving taxpayers up to $80,000 a year by employing two fewer dispatchers, and the fact that the $4 million bond issue approved by voters to build the jail promised a dispatching center that would save money in the long run.
Gregoire made the motion to locate the e-911 center at the sheriff's dispatch center in the county jail.
City and county officials also disagreed about what service provider to use. The state is offering a plan that pools counties, promising lower costs overall. Barthel noted that most major cities, including Great Falls, have decided to contract out the service on their own.
The committee voted unanimously to sign a letter of intent to go with the state's plan, with the understanding that the decision is not binding. The state had asked that a letter be submitted by Jan. 21.