The Edgar County Emergency Telephone System Board (ETSB) agreed to a 5 percent increase to help the county offset emergency dispatching costs.
ETSB is responsible for managing the local 911 emergency call system and from the beginning has had a cooperative arrangement with the Edgar County Sheriff’s Department where dispatchers hired by the sheriff for communicating with road deputies also take the 911 calls and dispatch all emergency services in the county. A few years ago, ETSB agreed to reimburse county dispatch expenses by 40 percent to cover time sheriff’s department employees are doing work related to 911 emergencies.
Karl Farnham Jr., the Edgar County Board’s representative to ETSB said the county recently endured a large increase in dispatcher pay after settling a contract. The dispatchers had worked a year without a contract and when the new agreement was signed a 3.5 percent pay increase became retroactive for the time dispatchers worked without a contract. The pay increase also means a larger quarterly payment from ETSB for the 40 percent reimbursement.
“I don’t have a problem paying 40 percent, or a little higher. I’d be willing to do 45 percent,” said Eric Shaughnessy, who’s Edgar County Special Service Area Ambulance is dispatched by the jail.
A 40 percent reimbursement, after the increase is factored in, is $120,256. Shaughnessy suggested ETSB pay $135,288.
Responding to a question about what action the county took regarding finding additional money for the pay increase, Farnham said the levy amount was increased and the county is taxing near to the maximum allowable rate.
“At least they are trying to levy to cover their costs, and we as taxpayers should cover that,” said ETSB president Troy Eads.
The ETSB approved paying the higher rate for dispatching although board member Merle Clark sounded a cautionary note.
“The county can levy when costs go up. We cannot,” said Clark.
A phone tax funds 911 emergency service. At one time, the tax assessed on telephone service providers was paid locally, but the state now collects the money and distributes it.
“We can get kind of tight if we are not careful,” said Clark, adding there is uncertainty about what the state is doing with the money since Edgar County has not received everything due. “If we pay $20,000 more this year and again next year, it’s not too long until we are paying another $100,000, but we don’t have any more money coming in.”
Clark emphasized he is not opposed to reimbursing some of the dispatching costs because the work provided by the dispatchers benefits the 911 system, but he wants to be careful not to overspend. The others acknowledged his point.
“The costs are what they are,” said Eads. “The concern is how long can we sustain this if costs increase but the state is not putting more money into local 911.”
The ETSB knows some major expenses are coming in the near future as the state prepares to switch to Next Gen dispatching for emergency calls. Next Gen uses Geographical Information System (GIS) technology, which is a digital record of immense amounts of geographical data regarding infrastructure and all parts of the human built environment. The goal is to provide precise coordinates so responders can get to an emergency in the most efficient manner possible.
Nanette Crippes, 911 coordinator, said Bruce Harris and Associates has proposed doing the initial GIS work required for $29,658. ETSB members wanted to know what the money is buying since the county already has a GIS system in place at the supervisor of assessments office.
“As I understand it, this is everything above and beyond what the county does,” said Crippes.
She was instructed to arrange for a company representative to make a presentation about the first phase work so ETSB members are certain it is not duplicating information already in the county’s possession.
Crippes said the total GIS work for Edgar County Next Gen is estimated to cost between $75,000 and $90,000 and possibly more. That expense does not include the purchase of new telecommunications and radio equipment compatible with the GIS system to augment dispatching. It is estimated the new hardware and software mandated by the state could reach an outlay of $300,000.
ETSB has reserve funds to pay for the Next Gen project.