By Jesse Wood
June 26, 2014. At a budget workshop two weeks ago, the Boone Town Council came to a consensus not to consolidate its emergency dispatch system with Watauga County – as the Town of Blowing Rock did in 2012, said Boone Mayor Andy Ball.
Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford presented a two-page report to council on the advantages and disadvantages of consolidating its 911 communications system. Speaking on Tuesday, Crawford mentioned that this issue was researched thoroughly.
In the report, Crawford noted that “one point of contact for all emergency services in Watauga County” and the “elimination of the possibility of dropped calls during transfer to another agency” would be two advantages.
“If it was save money, it would be an advantage,” Crawford wrote, too.
Crawford listed disadvantages as a need for a 24/7 call center, a need for a backup communications facility, a lack of cost savings, loss of supervision and authority and more. See the entire report below.
On Thursday Ball said, “We basically don’t see a cost savings going with a the consolidated dispatch and we can’t provide the same level of service we do with the town’s dispatcher position that we can rollover to Public Works or Public Utilities [if needed at a specific time].”
Hypothetically, Ball said that if a future council decided to breakaway from the consolidated dispatch, the town would incur “quite a lot of costs” returning to the local dispatch system and mentioned that it might not even be able to reverse the decision because the state is really pushing for consolidated dispatch.
As it stands, Ball said this council or a future council could always reconsider consolidated dispatch.
When former Watauga County Commissioner Vince Gable was on the board, he pushed for consolidated dispatch with the surrounding dispatch centers on Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock and Boone Police Departments and the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, and the county tried on multiple occasions to entice Boone into consolidating.
“A lot of it is political turf wars with everyone wanting to keep their little domains,” Gable said in 2011.
See Crawford’s report below.
Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford’s Report To Council on Consolidated Dispatch
1- If it would save money, it would be an advantage.
2- One point of contact for all emergency services in Watauga County.
3- Eliminates the possibility of a dropped call during transfer to another agency.
1- Need for 24/7 Call Center: The response from Watauga County Manager’s Office states that Watauga Communications will answer one (1) of three (3) administrative lines. Approximately 85% of all calls received in the Boone Communications Center are received on administrative lines, suggesting the TOB would need staff to handle calls on administrative lines not answered by Watauga County. The High-Country Crimestoppers phone lines (available 24/7) and who would answer these lines is not addressed.
2- Back-up Communications Facility: “Back-up PSAP” according to the NC 9-1-1 Board website is defined as:
“A facility equipped with automatic number identification, automatic location identification displays and all other features common to primary PSAPs. A Backup PSAP receives 911 calls only when they are transferred from the primary PSAP or on an alternate routing basis when calls cannot be completed to the primary PSAP. A Backup PSAP facility is normally unattended is remote from the Public Safety Answering Point and used to house equipment necessary for the functioning of an emergency communications system.”
Such a facility does not currently exist in Watauga County. Details are available clarifying what does currently exist in our area as well as what options would be available if consolidated.
3- Lack of Cost Savings: Watauga County estimated in 2012, it would cost the Town of Boone $424,660 for the first year of consolidation. The 2012/13 Communications budget (not including $56,943 salary and benefits for the Record’s Clerk position) was $457,607. However, the portion of the GIS expenses currently paid from the 9-1-1 budget, ($19,120 towards salary, $6,250 for GIS licensing/maintenance and other costs as allowable) would need to be absorbed by another budget within the town. Information provided by the Town of Blowing Rock suggests they are actually paying approximately $20,973 more in 2013/14 then they paid in 2011/12 for their communications/records needs.
4- Loss of supervisory capability/authority: Watauga County has advised that a Boone official of our choosing will be allowed to sit on a 9-1-1 Advisory Board, which will work in conjunction with the Emergency Services Director and the EMS Advisory Committee, with the final say so being with the County Manager. The Town of Boone would lose the ability to directly supervise employees, address complaints and correct performance deficiencies.
5- Department of Criminal Information Access: The Town of Boone would need to continue to pay the State of NC for access to DCI.
1- Formation of cohesive policy and procedures: How will Town of Boone Police Department P&P be incorporated in Watauga County P&P and Blowing Rock Police Departments P&P? Who will decide which policies/procedures will be followed by communications personnel?
2- Expectation of continued employment: What are the expectations of continued employment for current Town employees whose positions would transfer to Watauga County?
3- Staffing levels: How would minimum staffing levels be determined, and would these staffing levels be defined by contract?
4- Double taxation to Town of Boone residents: Town of Boone residents pay both city and county taxes, could this be viewed as double taxation?