By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Hill County is inviting residents - and the Havre City Council - to tour the Hill County Detention Center on Thursday and attend a forum on why it thinks the detention center is a better location for enhanced-911 service than the Havre police station.
County officials say the dispatch center at the jail was designed and is equipped to handle e-911.
"It's a matter of an area that's actually set up for this," Hill County sanitarian Clay Vincent, a member of the joint city-county e-911 committee, said this morning.
County Commissioner Mike Anderson said the county government wants to prevent residents from having to pay for a second e-911 center in the city.
The e-911 committee last month reversed a 2-year-old decision to make the police station the primary e-911 center for the entire county, based on a cost estimate that showed the city would need to spend $100,000. The Police Department has received a private donation to cover the cost and is asking the City Council to proceed with plans to make the police station the primary e-911 center.
The forum is the latest in a series of sometimes contentious discussions about where the enhanced service should be located. When the Hill County Detention Center opened in 1999, it was with the intent that it would house dispatching services, 911 services and eventually e-911, Anderson said.
Vincent said consolidating the dispatching, including 911 and eventually e-911, was one of the selling points for the $4 million bond issue the county proposed to pay for the detention center.
The vote failed in 1992 and 1994, but passed in 1996. The detention center housed all dispatching and 911 services, after it opened in 1999.
In 2000, the Havre City Council approved a plan by the Havre Police Department to open a dispatch center at the police station. It opened a 24-hour dispatch station in August of that year.
From 1987 to 2000, the only 24-hour dispatching was at the county, first at the Hill County Courthouse, then at the newly built detention center, Vincent said.
In 2003, the county 911 commission approved housing enhanced 911, which shows the dispatcher the physical address of the caller, at the city. On Jan. 11, it voted to house e-911 at the detention center, prompting Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel, Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard and Mayor Bob Rice to abruptly leave the meeting.
Sheppard, who signed a letter along with Rice and Barthel asking the City Council to support going forward with housing e-911 in the city, said today the city believes it would be best to continue with the 2003 decision by the committee.
"My feeling is that we need to go forward with the plan that was approved," Sheppard said.
Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said the 2003 decision to house the system in the city was primarily because city representatives refused to budge on the issue.
Anderson said the committee has now approved housing the center in the detention center, and the Hill County Commission wants to avoid having a center in both locations.
"It makes no fiscal sense to have two dispatch centers in a community of 17,000 people," he said.
Sheriff Greg Szudera said it would cost about $125,000 to upgrade the city facilities to house the center, including having a backup generator and having necessary radio equipment.
The detention center could be connected with no upgrade, he said.
Sheppard said that cost is debatable. For example, he said, the city is in the process of replacing a generator that was damaged last summer and that it will be replaced whether e-911 is housed at the city or not.
Szudera said he will have the jail locked down at 7 p.m. Thursday so people can tour the facility. He said he can take about 15 people at a time, and the forum can start immediately following the tours.