More talks with the Ray County 911 Board of Directors and the entities they serve was decided after two hours of discussions – heated at times – at last night’s 911 public hearing.
“We asked for a proposal, you gave us one. I have faith in my staff and I feel like there’s other possibilities. A centralized county dispatch is the way to go. I don’t know if this is the proper one and would like to look at other possibilities,” said Richmond Mayor Lance Green.
Green asked Councilman Bob Bond, who chairs the Public Safety Committee and 911 Committee, to get together with Ray County 911 Director Scott Enss to schedule another meeting. An Aug. 1 deadline was determined if Richmond wants to join Ray County 911 by its new fiscal year which begins Oct. 1.
“It would have to be Aug. 1 because eight to 12 weeks of training is required for new dispatchers (to take on the additional workload). It needs to be a seamless integration across those dates. We don’t want to put anyone at risk,” said Enss.
The cost of Ray County 911’s proposal is $182,576. Richmond’s 911 and dispatch budget for this year is $197,580. The proposal includes handling all county 911 calls and dispatch of Richmond fire and police, technology and information software to aid law enforcement, such as NCIC background checks, Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULES) and GIS mapping. All transactions, modifications, cancellations of calls, plus record keeping would be done by Ray County 911 as well.
Paul Harris, board member of Ray County 911 and Ray County Ambulance, said the cost of the proposal is based on the number of calls received by Richmond dispatch and that the city requires ALERTS, MULES and the NCIC system, which other entities they serve do not need. He said the Sheriff’s Department was the closest figures in terms of calls and officers to Richmond. The Sheriff’s Department paid $196,000 this year for their services, he said.
Tim Ray, Richmond 911 dispatch supervisor, began the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation that reviewed the assessment of Richmond 911 from Missouri 911 Director R.D. Porter. In his presentation, Ray said there were three areas of concern from Porter. The concerns were the cost of technology and the ability to financial maintain and upgrade software, staffing issues and the cost per 911 call.
“It didn’t work out as well as we hoped. We had to move one of the part-timers to a full-time position to maintain 24/7. We’re in a better place now,” he said.
Ray also said purchases of an answering point (PSAP), computers, monitors and other items for dispatch were contributors to their $20.32 per 911 call in the audit. He said the city’s cost per call is $20.28. Ray County 911 cost per 911 call is $11.67, according to its audit.
Ray reiterated Porter’s remarks in his audit that the two 911 and dispatch units should consider consolidation to avoid redundancies and cut costs.
The point of contention at the meeting was Ray’s side-by-side comparison of costs if Richmond joined Ray County 911. Although the city’s 911 and dispatch budget is $196,580 for this year, Ray said actual cost is $30,000 less because the software budgeted to receive wireless calls would not be purchased, due to the economy and finances. Ray’s final budget reflected a total cost of $174,884. In Ray’s comparison, the cost to join Ray County 911 would be much higher than the proposed $182,576. In the county column, the city’s annual $3,000 contract for AT&T’s PSAP unit was added along with $144,846 for administrative costs to man the Richmond Police Department window 24-hours a day. The administrative cost is for three full-time positions and 4,000 hours of part-time help to cover vacations and sick time, according to Police Chief Terri McWilliams.
“My question is, you’re just manning that window, right?” asked Councilwoman Terrie Stanley.
“It’s not just sitting at the window and doing nothing,” McWilliams replied.
“How can you come up with that figure when the whole ball of wax is $182,000 with everything else and that’s with the county doing it?” Stanley asked.
“We can do it ourselves or contract it out.” Ray said. “Seventy percent is just people. The rest is equipment and maintenance.”
Mayor Green added, “We would have to pay off our contract and then pay administrative people.”
Councilman Roger Kepple, also a County 911 board member asked, “The $144,846 is added to the Ray County 911 column. Why? That should be part of your police budget and not 911.”
Ray said the other duties the dispatchers provide would still be needed and the city’s 911 budget currently pays for dispatch.
“I think your figures are a little slanted here,” Kepple said.
Richmond resident Brenda Clemens pointed at the numbers on the board and said, “You’re doubling up with your labor.”
Later in the meeting, Councilman Bob Bond said he put “pencil to paper” and thought the merging of services could be done for $150,000.
Stanley asked what the duties would be of the administrative personnel. Ray said it was to handle emergency walk-in traffic to the police department and emergency calls on administrative lines.
“How many emergency walk-ins do we have?” Kepple asked. “You mean the lobby (of the police department)? I think that can be taken care of. Have an emergency phone in the lobby.”
Ray said walk-ins were not a daily occurrence and that he is “100 percent” for a central dispatch, but said he didn’t know if this was the appropriate proposal. Ray added later in the meeting that personnel would also monitor City Hall alarms, dispatch Public Works personnel and process informational requests from police and fire.
Linda Enss, a sergeant for Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department and Enss’ wife, challenged the notion that dispatchers were needed if the city joins County 911.
“You still want to maintain qualified dispatchers to do administrative work for $144,846 when those tasks could be performed by clerks or an officer manager.”
The hourly rate of part-time and full-time employees was then brought into the discussion. Part-time dispatchers receive $9 an hour, and full-time employees around $12.25.
“Why not $8? That saves me as a citizen. A clerk could dispatch Public Works,” Linda Enss said. “For a lot of men and women, $8 an hour is good. It’s better than what Walmart pays. How can you say this is the cost of administrative? You want to save your dispatchers’ jobs to do administrative office work.”
Ray responded. “No. I want to come together and form a committee to create a single dispatch entity.”
Mayor Green weighed in and said, “The number (administrative costs) could be cut significantly, maybe in half.”
McWilliams said if the city decides to go to Phase II wireless communications, the cost could be spread over a three-year period. It was brought up in the discussion that only 64 of the 182 dispatch and 911 centers in the state have Phase II wireless capabilities to receive cell phone calls and Ray County is one of them. High costs were cited for the limited number and a main reason why Lafayette County does not have the Phase II software.
“And we’re going for two in the city of Richmond?” Kepple asked incredulously. “I think there’s costs that we’re not seeing.”
The transfer of emergency calls was also a hot topic. Ray County currently receives all 911 cell phones for the county and dispatches solely for Ray County Ambulance.
“What is the chance of a dropped call?” Councilman Bob Bond asked.
Enss said it’s irregular, but there is the potential with the transfer of calls from one dispatch to another. Ray added the protocol is to get the phone number and address from the caller in case a call is dropped.
Another issue was response time and the delay of transferring calls from one center to another.
Richmond resident Tom Williams told the council his experience with a transfer of a 911 call was not quick.
“You have to take a look at the service that the county can provide. It seems to me a county dispatcher is the way to go. I have used it (911) once. The county turned me over to the city, the city turned me over to the policeman. By that time, the issue I had was gone. You want fast response. I didn’t get it on the call I made. Personally, I’d go with the county,” he said.
It was asked if it was feasible for County 911 to physcially move to Richmond’s Police Department. Scott Enss said it would be cost prohibitive.
“We serve 11 entities and their warrants; we have three times as high of call volume, more trunk and 911 lines,” he said. Enss said county dispatch has a staff of eight full-time positions and nine part-time positions. Additional staff would be required if Richmond joined the county.
It was then asked what would be cost if Richmond dispatch moved to the county. Ray said it would be low. He said there would be no cost to move radios, around $1,300 to move trunk and administrative lines. The reconfiguration cost of the sentinel was in question. Mayor Green pressed for an estimate of the move and a $10,000 figure was given.
County 911 board member and Hardin Fire Chief Malcolm Cunningham reiterated the county’s position.
“Richmond approached us for a proposal. We put a proposal on the ground. We dispatch for every other entity, except for these two (Richmond fire and police). Fees are based on usage and we projected a $182,576 cost. We assigned three or four members (from the board) to talk about it. From the very beginning, none of this has been done without the input of the other entities. Every year, we have the CAD system look at the call volume and breakdown the cost. We meet once a month. If you want to know the inner workings of 911, please feel free to attend the meetings.”
Harris added the county is not trying to make a profit from their proposal.