Independent study being offered in 911 consolidation talks

Smith also said there were ample misconceptions and misinformation from various groups who are pushing the 911 dispatching consolidation. The problems with the 911 dispatching systems mentioned at previous meetings have been unfounded, he said.

That brought a line of questioning from Mayor Derrill Unruh, who wondered why the county commission was even considering changing the 911 systems in their present state.

“I don’t see an upside with consolidation,” Unruh said. “If it isn’t broke, then why fix it?”

Smith said the previous 911 consolidation meetings have shown no cost savings to taxpayers. In fact, he fears that any upgrades to a consolidated 911 system would likely cost taxpayers additional money — at a time when the State of Kansas is decreasing the volume of grants to counties for 911 systems.

“There is no cost savings,” Smith told the commission. “Representatives of the State of Kansas were down last week for a 911 meeting and told us that consolidation would not lead to reduced costs.”

Smith also said that a consolidated dispatch center, regardless of where it would be located, would put Montgomery County at risk in the event a natural disaster would strike that center. With the current 911 dispatch system (with separate operations in Independence, Coffeyville and Caney), a back-up site would serve the best interests of the county in the event any of the dispatch systems are out of service.

City manager Micky Webb recommended that the 911 consolidation committee, which includes representatives from law enforcement and emergency services in Montgomery County, pause their discussions while an independent study be conducted. He said having an outside source before the study would remove the politics and emotions from the consolidation discussions.

Commissioners indicated a desire to have more information about 911 consolidation and agreed that an independent study be considered. Webb will offer the 911 consolidation committee and the county commission with plans to have an independent study performed with the costs shard between the cities of Independence and Coffeyville and the Montgomery County Commission.

Meanwhile, the Coffeyville City Commission heard an update about the 911 consolidation plans in a report from police chief Anthony Celeste. County commissioner Leon Rau, who is spearheading the consolidation discussions, also was present at the Coffeyville meeting to discuss the consolidation talks.

Celeste said a consolidated dispatch system would be beneficial because it would remove confusion and chaos that arises whenever calls made by cellular phones are routed through Independence. In many cases, information from a cell phone caller has to be sent to two or three different agencies.

In the current 911 system, the City of Coffeyville answers land-line 911 calls from the Coffeyville area, as well as South Coffeyville, Tyro, Dearing and Liberty telephone exchanges. All cellular phone calls in Montgomery County are channeled through the 911 center at the Independence Police Department, where information ultimately is funneled back to Coffeyville if that emergency scene is in the Coffeyville area.

“This allows for a lot of opportunity for mistakes,” Celeste said. “Many times you might get two or three dispatch centers to get the services you need.”

Having a consolidated 911 system would allow for a clearer channel of communication and a higher level of professional services. There would be no duplication of 911 equipment in a consolidated system, he said, adding that the next level of 911 equipment, called Next Generation 911, would likely be duplicated in the current 911 systems.
Rau said the consolidation talks were broached when complaints were received by the commission several months ago of continued “dead spots” in radio communication between law enforcement and emergency services in Montgomery County. Those dead spots in radio communication were compounded by confusion of road addresses and the way those addresses are created.

In appealing to the State of Kansas for assistance in addressing the radio and address system problems, the county commission learned that the Next Generation 911 system will require a consolidated, cooperative effort among law enforcement and emergency services, Rau said.

“We were told by two different people at the state that our first order of business was to get our county politics in order,” he said. “I found out that the county had been denied 911 grants previously because our county is too fragmented with multiple 911 dispatch centers.”

The present 911 systems have inherent problems because of lack of coordination between agencies, Rau emphasized.

“We have problems not because of the personnel but because the system is set up with flaws in it,” he said.

Under Rau’s proposal, Montgomery County would serve as the 911 dispatch center with all 911 revenue flowing through the county’s coffers. Currently, land-line customers in Coffeyville, Tyro, Liberty, Dearing and South Coffeyville telephone exchanges fund the Coffeyville 911 system. Land-line customers in Independence, Cherryvale, Elk City and other northern areas of the county fund the 911 system in Montgomery County. All cellular phone customers in Montgomery County pay a monthly fee (on their cellular bills) that go toward the E911 cellular dispatching system in Independence. The 911 dispatching center in Caney serves only the 879 telephone exchange and is funded solely through the City of Caney’s general fund.

Rau said representatives of all cities except for Independence have expressed a desire to pursue consolidation. He said Independence was balking at the consolidation because of the potential loss in revenue from the collection of telephone fees (land line and cellular) that are used to finance the dispatching systems in that town.

Asked about any cost savings under a consolidation plan, Rau said there would be no cost savings . . . other than a savings in duplicated machinery and equipment.

“This whole consolidated system with all of the advantages of the expanded system is not going to cost less,” he said. “The only savings will be in setting up one system instead of four systems.”

Celeste said while he favored a consolidated 911 system. However, concerns about the location of that consolidated center was not as important as the quality of service that is rendered to the citizens, he said.

“The fact of the matter it really doesn’t matter” where the 911 center is located, said Celeste. “The phone can ring wherever we want it to ring. Where it is located basically has no bearing on the quality of service that we could provide with a consolidated center.”

Commissioners indicated a strong desire to have Celeste and fire chief James Grimmett continue to sit on the 911 consolidation task force.

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