911 Study Back on the Front Burner

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Published on September 11 2012 3:17 pm
Last Updated on July 14 2013 12:07 pm
Written by Greg Sapp

A study of Effingham County's 911 system has come full circle and the 911 Board has agreed to pursue the study.

The decision by the 911 Board comes after an ad hoc committee of City and County officials met for several months to develop a proposal to study the system including whether the system could be consolidated into one public dispatching point instead of two.  Their work seemed at an end after a decision by the Effingham County Board in late August against funding a portion of the cost of the study.  The Effingham City Council later voted against sharing in the cost because of the action by the County Board.  The 911 Board had voted in August to table a decision on whether to help fund the cost of the study.

At Tuesday's meeting, though, 911 Board Member Norbert Soltwedel said the issue was "back where it belongs".  Soltwedel said a look at the close vote by the County Board against paying a share of the cost of the ad hoc committee's recommended study and statements by the City Council, particularly those of Effingham Mayor Merv Gillenwater that anytime the other two entities were ready to participate, so would the City, led him to believe that the issue "is close to coming back to life."

Soltwedel said he reviewed the Request for Proposals prepared for the ad hoc committee and "thought it was well-done".  He's also been listening to local citizens since joining the 911 Board a couple of months ago and said, "They think this (911) could be done cheaper.  The system is not broken, but we don't know if it could be done cheaper, and I don't think we'll know until we get an outside opinion."  Soltwedel emphasized that his goal was making sure the system was "efficient", not necessarily consolidated.  He also suggested an independent study could address a "lack of trust" of some county residents of the 911 system and whether it's being operated on the most efficient basis.

When asked for input from other committee members, Altamont Fire Chief and 911 Board Member Jon Becker said, "I'm not hearing complaints on the emergency services side, the comments are coming from the political side (regarding 911)". 

Soltwedel replied, "I agree that the emergency services are not dissatisfied, but I'm here for the taxpayers and don't they have the right to make sure they are being best served?"

After further discussion, the 911 Board voted to establish a committee "to study the efficiencies of the 911 system."  Soltwedel will chair the committee and he'll be joined by 911 Board Members Mike Schutzbach who serves as city police chief, John Loy who serves as chief deputy sheriff, Karen Luchtefeld who is the County Board's representative on the 911 Board, and Ted Heath who with Soltwedel was appointed earlier this year as a public member of the 911 Board. 

The newly-formed committee will meet at 9am on Tuesday, September 25 to get to work.  Soltwedel said it makes sense to work with the remnants of the ad hoc committee and to go to the City and County for input.

The Board also discussed the communications bridge designed to improve communication between City and County law enforcement officers.  The bridge has been tried on a limited basis and worked, but has since had its problems.  There was discussion at Tuesday's meeting about how to solve the problems, which have included difficulties for telecommunicators at the dispatching points communicating with the officers.

After Heath suggested pre-approving funding for the patch if it is proved reliable, the 911 Board voted to meet again on September 25th at noon to review whether the patch is working and then decide how to proceed.  Board member Russ Thomas who serves as County Emergency Management Agency Director wonders why 911 should pay for something to improve communication between the law enforcement agencies and whether the agencies should foot the bill rather than 911, and voted against the motion.

911 Board members also discussed whether to renew the existing agreement with the City and County on telecommunicators.  Currently, 911 pays the City and County each $65,000 to cover the cost of one telecommunicator at each dispatching point to handle 911 calls, with 911 paying for the communications equipment.  Schutzbach asked whether 911 should consider an increase in what they're paying the City and County, but other members suggested maybe the City and County should be doing the suggesting if they're not satisfied with what they're receiving.

The question of seeking Requests for Proposals on replacing the 911 consoles at each dispatching point was not visited in light of the proposed study on the efficiencies of the system.

Also Tuesday, the 911 Board discussed increasing the education budger to $2,500 to increase efforts to heighten awareness of how the system functions, and whether to develop a 911 website.  More on those items will be discussed at the regular monthly meeting in September.  The Board also voted to approve a letter of understanding with Effingham County where 911 will pay their IT specialist directly, rather than reimburse the County for their share of the staff member's expense.