Mount Vernon News
 
 

By Mount Vernon News
February 14, 2013 8:52 am EST

 

MOUNT VERNON — The 9-1-1 Planning Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend the plan to consolidate the two 9-1-1 call centers into one and send the plan on to the townships, villages and Mount Vernon City Council and then to the county commissioners for approval.

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The local governments will have 60 days to approve or reject the plan. It will be considered approved when local governments representing 60 percent of the county population approves it.

9-1-1 Director Richard Dzik had prepared a 10-page report responding to issues raised at the Jan. 22 meeting of the Committee. The report addressed the issues of transferring calls, concerns about reduction in staffing (and the potential cost savings), noise in the workplace, the projected $350,000 cost of consolidation, employee fraternization and the size of administrative staff. He also looked at how consolidation will help define each dispatcher’s role in the center and how increased expenses to make up for tasks currently assumed by the dispatchers can be avoided by investigating different technologies, distribution of duties and other innovations.

Dzik also provided an analysis of solutions to various technical issues raised by Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis.

Twenty or more people attended the hearing, many of them township, village, fire and EMS officials, but no one addressed the committee other than Monroe Township Trustee Bill Pursel, who asked if a copy of the answers to Mavis’ questions would be made available. Dzik said he would send them out with the other material on the consolidation plan.

Dzik did address the meeting briefly, emphasizing the rapid growth and change in 9-1-1 operations and how 9-1-1 has become the “fourth arm” of public safety, joining police, fire and EMS, not just a subsidiary of law enforcement.

“We need to decide what’s best for our 9-1-1,” Dzik said.

“Technology is changing rapidly,” he said, citing text messaging, On-Star, Twitter, social media and mass notification systems as things 9-1-1 will have to deal with and try to integrate into the 9-1-1 system.

Changing technology will create the need for more training for dispatchers.

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Mavis said that since the Jan. 22 meeting, most of the calls he has received on the subject indicated the public supports the consolidation as they think it will save money. Mavis said he would vote to recommend the plan.

Dzik explained how the argument that spending $350,000 for consolidation at the county Service Center is irresponsible use of tax money doesn’t account for the costs of remodeling that would be needed at the Sheriff’s Office if the call center was to be located there or the costs of updated equipment and a new generator for a backup center, which would likely be at the Mount Vernon Police Department.

He estimates the rough cost of remodeling at the Sheriff’s Office is $128,000.

Dzik also noted that “many of the upgrades for consolidation are not duplications of what is already in place but are rather necessary system upgrades and improvements.” In other words, those expenses will be coming anyway.

The noise would be worse and the space more cramped at the present call center in the Sheriff’s Office than in the more spacious room available on High Street. That space is roughly equal to the combined call centers now in use.

Also on the space issue, Dzik described how staying at the Sheriff’s Office would mean there was no room available for establishing a backup center for another county, or for consolidating the call center with those of one or more other counties. Both of those possibilities have been raised by other 9-1-1 directors as a likely future possibility.

He also explained how almost all surrounding counties have separate 9-1-1 directors, whether they have the 9-1-1 system arrayed under the Emergency Management Agency umbrella or not, and how other counties are in the process of consolidating call centers.

Dzik also analyzed the argument that the consolidation would cause diminished support for law enforcement, arguing that there are ways to make up for the law enforcement use of 9-1-1 employees in various roles.

He pointed out how consolidating the call centers would minimize call transfers and would prevent 84 percent of the county’s 9-1-1 calls being handled by 50 percent of the dispatch staff.

Under the current set-up, four dispatchers are normally on duty at all times (two at each call center). The combined center would only require three under normal conditions, provided some non-communications duties are eliminated.

The technical issues report addressed financial projections in more detail. Dzik pointed out that the August 2011 analysis of financial concerns spotlighted rising personnel costs as a significant reason for the deficit spending that would eliminate the agency’s budget surplus by 2015.

Eliminating the differences in equipment and duties of the two call centers will also make training part-time employees to supplement the regular staff more feasible. If the financial issues are not brought under control, it would be necessary for either a levy increase to be placed before the voters, which Dzik said would probably fail, or to assess user fees to the agencies that utilize the 9-1-1 system.

One aspect of the changes that the consolidation plan will bring will be the elimination of the 9-1-1 board as the agency’s governing body. Instead, the director will report directly to the county commissioners.

Dzik said after the session that he had been troubled by volunteer members of the board being sued. There are also questions about with whom the dispatchers would sign their union contract.

Dzik said an advisory panel would be created to be sure 9-1-1 responds to the needs of the local agencies it serves.


Contact Chuck Martin
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