Lyon Countians get skinny on Allen County 911 center



February 12, 2013 - 12:00 AM

In January 2010 Allen County upgraded 911 dispatch services to cutting edge technology when it took full control of the service, after sharing responsibilities — and costs — with Iola for several years.
Monday a delegation of Emporia and Lyon County officials came to Iola to learn what occurred, with the intention of doing something similar.
Lyon County Sheriff Jeff Cope said 911 dispatch and that for local police officers was done with older equipment in Emporia police headquarters.
“Sheriff’s officers are dispatched from our office, on equipment that also is about 20 years old,” he said.
Representatives there of local ambulance, fire and law enforcement — city and county — have been meeting for some time with the objective of convincing their respective commissions that a single dispatch center, funded by the county, would provide far superior service than now is available.
Scott Cronk, interim Emporia chief of police, joined Cope in outlining what was being done in Emporia.
They said the hurdle would be to sell one service, funded by the county, to the two sets of commissioners.
“We have 26,000 people living in Emporia,” Cronk said, “and they’re paying twice in taxes for dispatch services,” with the city and the county each dispatching.
“Why not make county taxes pay for it all,” he said. “All who benefit would be county taxpayers,” noting that those living in Emporia pay county taxes the same as those elsewhere in Lyon County.
He got no argument from Angie Murphy, dispatch director, Tom Williams, who was sheriff when Allen County assumed full responsibility for dispatch, or Jared Warner, Iola’s police chief.
Warner championed the local move, pointing out that when the county decided to take over dispatch services equipment was badly in need of an upgrade and space for dispatchers, in an alcove of police headquarters, was crammed.

PREVIOUSLY the police department operated dispatch for itself and the county, including 911, with county and city sharing the cost. That was about $180,000 each in the last year, 2009.
The county acquired the old Heartland Electric office, 410 N. State Street, for $177,000. Another $558,000 was spent on remodeling and a vast array of computers, telephones and other electronic equipment, with nearly $200,000 of that paid from 911 grants awarded by the state. Consequently, the county has about $535,000 in locally generated money in the building and its upgrade.
While county commissioners have the last say in what occurs at the dispatch center, an advisory board made up of heads of public safety agencies — chaired first by Williams and now by Warner — makes recommendations.
A 50-cent per month tax on telephone lines raises money to purchase equipment. Other money, for wages and overhead, comes from grants and tax money raised throughout the county, including Iola.
Murphy said a study done prior to consolidation indicated no savings would occur, but that service would be much better with vastly upgraded equipment available to all in the county.
She also noted that having the dispatch center isolated as it is — doors are locked and casual access isn’t permitted — made dispatchers’ jobs more efficient and focused than before, when officers and passersby were apt to drop by for a visit.
The consolidation has “worked out well for us,” Warner said of the city and his department. “It’s let us open up the department and give a better level of service” to those who come to City Hall to report a crime, lodge a complaint or come for information.

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