By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Havre City Council members have mixed opinions about whether the city should go forward with a plan to locate an enhanced-911 call center at the Havre Police Department.
At least one City Council member wants to see city and county officials work to find a solution to the controversy, which took another turn at a Jan. 11 meeting of the joint city-county e-911 committee meeting. Members voted 3-1 to locate the call center at the Hill County Detention Center instead of at the city's dispatch center. At that meeting, Mayor Bob Rice and Police Chief Mike Barthel abstained and, along with Fire Chief Dave Sheppard, abruptly left when the vote was cast.
City officials have since, in a letter, asked the City Council for permission to pursue opening an e-911 center at the police station. County officials say that would be an unnecessary and expensive duplication of service.
"I am extremely disappointed by the way these meetings have been conducted," City Council member Emily Mayer Lossing said this week. "I think there's a solution out there and the city and the county have to start acting like adults. I believe that community leaders need to come together to find a solution that is fair to all of the people involved."
Mayer Lossing, who works in the personnel department at the Hill County Courthouse, said she suggested holding a public forum on the issue at a meeting of county officials in early January. Hill County is hosting a forum and tours of the detention center tonight. The tours begin at 7 p.m. and the forum will be held afterward.
Mayer Lossing said she will attend the forum, but she would not comment on the letter signed by Barthel, Sheppard and public works director Dave Peterson. She has not yet seen the letter, she said.
E-911 allows dispatchers to see where incoming calls originate, enabling emergency workers to respond faster. Two years ago the 911 committee voted to locate the call center at the Havre Police Department.
A consultant's estimate said it would cost at least $100,000 to upgrade the city's dispatch center for e-911. The police department has since received a private donation to cover the cost of the upgrade. The consultant said the county would need up to $30,000 in upgrades.
City Council member Tom Farnham said he would support having an e-911 center at the police station if the issue comes before the City Council. The letter must first be considered by the council's Fire and Police Committee. A meeting has not yet been set.
"I feel that it should be at the city because we went forth with the planning of it," Farnham said. "Three years ago they said it would be located at the city.
He noted that the consultant said the county would need $30,000 in upgrades. Since a private donation is paying for the necessary upgrades at the city's dispatch center, that would save the taxpayers $30,000, Farnham said.
He said he will not be able to attend tonight's forum because of prior committments.
Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said that under the 911 committee's new plan, the $30,000 expenditure won't be necessary. The previous plan had listed the city's dispatch center as the primary call center and the detention center as a backup. The money was going to be used to connect the two. Under the new plan, only the detention center will provide e-911 service, so there is no need for the expenditure, he said.
City Council member Terry Schend said he would be unable to attend tonight's forum because of prior committments. He said he did not agree with the city-county 911 committee's decision to move the call center to the detention center.
"So anytime you're dissatisfied with something, you're just going to keep voting on it until you're happy?" Schend said. "I don't put any validity in it. The decision was made. The state has approved that plan, and I don't understand why the county is going after it, unless there are some other issues they're not really talking about."
City Council member Pam Hillery said she was undecided on the issue.
"I understand the county's argument," she said. "On a countywide basis it makes sense to have e-911 at the county facility. I guess I need to understand better from the city why we need to have it there (at the Police Department). If there's some concrete reason, they may be able to sway my vote."
Hillery has had an extensive tour of the detention center, she said, but she will attend tonight's forum to hear what the public has to say.
"I'd like to go hear what people are saying," she said. "The people that have talked to me are asking 'Why are we doing this?'"
City Council member Allen "Woody" Woodwick said he will attend tonight's forum.
"I'd just like to get more information so I can make a better decision," he said. "I'd like to see all of the angles. We made a commitment to the 911 committee and I think we should honor that and go with the committee's recommendation. They control the funding. If they direct the funding to the county, is the city going to have to come up with all of the funding on its own?"