MOUNT VERNON — Knox County’s 9-1-1 system is at an important juncture. It’s poised to consolidate its two call centers into one and move into the future with a more streamlined operation. But if its one-quarter percent sales tax is not renewed, Director Richard Dzik might have to figure out how to dismantle the system and turn emergency call duties back over to the individual agencies.
Since the emergency system was started in 1994, it has been primarily funded by the sales tax. For the past five years it has also received $135,000 from the state of Ohio, through a 28-cent fee on cell phone bills, to pay for integrating cell phones into the 9-1-1 call system so that operators can pinpoint a caller’s location, just as they can with a caller on a land line.
However, Dzik said, that fee expires in December and he hasn’t heard if the state will renew it.
The sales tax produces about $1.35 million per year. When added to the cell phone fee, that makes the annual budget about $1.48 million.
The agency does have an $800,100 carryover, but that is for emergencies and $350,000 is earmarked for the merging of the two call centers into one, which will be located in the basement of the County Services Building on East High Street.
Dzik said the merger has been projected to save about $250,000 per year, so the move will quickly be paid for and the agency will be able to continue operating with its present budget size for several years.
The 9-1-1 Board has set Dec. 31, 2013, as the deadline for consolidation. “It will be a lot of work and we’re doing everything to stay within our budget,” Dzik said.
Dzik said there is also upgraded equipment being purchased using the carryover money, but it is not being paid for all at once. Instead, it’s being paid for over five years, so as not to exhaust the carryover fund.
Equipment is a big part of the agency’s budget, as are the service contracts for keeping it in top condition.
There is also training for the dispatchers, of which there are currently 23. The rest of the agency staff consists of Dzik and his administrative assistant.
Three dispatchers were recently hired, but there will be a retirement in December Dzik said, and he likes to have an extra. At one time there were 26, but by training dispatchers to work at both centers, which they did not do until this year, plus some overtime, the agency has been able to staff both centers.
“The dispatchers understand the financial constraints we’ve been under,” Dzik said.
The goal is that the staff will consist of 21 dispatchers when the consolidation is completed.
If the tax renewal should fail, Dzik said they would try again before the tax expires in July 2013 and use the carryover fund.
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