Havre Daily News
At the request of a citizen, the Havre-Hill County 911 Board will seek a legal opinion on whether its decision to locate an enhanced-911 emergency call center at the Havre police station, instead of the Hill County Detention Center, is valid.
The board will continue to move forward with its work to bring the service, which speeds response time by showing dispatchers the location of a call, to Havre and Hill County by this fall.
Resident and Havre City Council candidate Bob Kaul told the board that its decision to locate the e-911 call center at the city's dispatch center may be in conflict with state law.
The board voted 4-1 to forward his question to the Hill County attorney and possibly to the state Attorney General's Office.
A resolution passed by voters in 1996 stated that the county jail would house an "emergency services facility, which includes a detention facility and administrative facility."
Kaul said today he considers "emergency services facility" to mean more than the sheriff's office. "To me, it's fire, police, sheriff, ambulance," he said. "We're going to have to have some interpretation (of the language). I'm not through with my research, either."
Hill County Commissioner Mike Anderson said today he was unsure of how the resolution approved by voters applies to the location of the call center.
"It's kind of vague, and I think that was on purpose," he said.
Kaul said he made presentations to voters about the resolution before it went on the ballot.
In 2002, the 911 board voted to move the call center to the city. Earlier this year, the board reaffirmed that decision after several months of debate over whether to place the center in the county jail. A backup e-911 center will be located at the jail.
County officials had supported consolidating city and county dispatch at the jail, but agreed to two centers for Hill County in a compromise with the city.
"(From) what I have been able to find and read, under Montana law, when a resolution is passed by the voters, it becomes law," Kaul said. "I still have more research to do on this subject, but ... both of our law enforcement groups are or would be operating outside of the law.
"I really do not think that is the example to be set for Havre and Hill County," Kaul said.
He requested that board members forward his question to the state attorney general and refrain from spending money or purchasing equipment until an answer is received.
Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel and Hill County Undersheriff Don Brostrom, who was sitting in for Sheriff Greg Szudera, expressed misgivings about slowing the process to bring e-911 service to the area. Contracts have already been signed, Brostrom said.
"There are things we've already committed to that we can't change now," he said.
Barthel voted against seeking the legal opinion. He said he voted no "in the interest of public safety."
"Attorney general opinions can be six, eight, 10 months out," he said after the meeting. "I do not want this process to be held up any longer."
Kaul said he understands the importance of installing e-911 service.
"I am well aware of the need of the e-911 system for Hill County, but I still believe that we need to do this right for the betterment of all of Hill County," he said.
Barthel also questioned whether the vote to seek an opinion was legal. The issue was not on the board's agenda, he said Tuesday.
"I don't know if we as a board today could even vote," Barthel said. "There was no notice given."
Anderson said the board could address the question under the "old business" portion of the agenda.
Kaul first brought the issue up about nine months ago and presented the request to the board in May.
He approached Peterson and the Attorney General's Office and was told by both offices that they could not render an opinion at a private citizen's request, Kaul said.
Anderson said he had intended to ask Peterson to research the question but got sidetracked. He spoke in favor of getting an opinion.
"I don't think, necessarily, that it's going to change things, but it would clarify things," Anderson said.
The board recently entered into a contract with the state to bring e-911 to Hill County.
Under the contract, the board will spend $82,000 to connect the city call center to the service and another $82,000 to hook up the county center. The money comes from a fee charged to phone customers in Hill County.
The time for connecting to the service is close, Barthel said.
"The state is telling us they will be ready by the end of October," he said. "They're looking for deployment in the first part of November."