Commission agrees to study 911, dispatch merger

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 14, 2005

Merging the the 911 dispatch center with the sheriff's office is "the common sense thing to do."

That is the way Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton described discussion on merging the two agencies.

The discussion is in the preliminary stages. Both Sexton and Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens are floating proposals to merge dispatchers into one unit under the sheriff's office. This is in order to save money and keep the sheriff from having to lay off deputies. His office is projected to run out of money in early September.

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Both Sexton and Stephens said such a move would save the county money and increase efficiency. Sexton said it would it would also improve public safety.

The Lawrence County Commission Tuesday agreed to study Stephens'

proposal. They have not yet received Sexton's plan.

"The object is to get us to talk about it," Commissioner Jason Stephens said. "I talked to a lady the other day and she was telling me about a drug bust that happened in her neighborhood and she was pleased the sheriff's office was doing its thing. But we've got a problem: With the budget the way it is now, the auditor's office says the sheriff's office will run out of money in September. I don't want to see it closed down."

Right now, the sheriff's office has six dispatchers who handle calls to the sheriff's office. The county's 911 dispatch, under the control of the Lawrence County Emergency Services Agency, has seven full-time and seven part-time employees who dispatch for the county's fire departments. The 911 dispatchers transfer medical calls they receive to SEOEMS and law enforcement calls to either the sheriff's office or the Ironton Police Department.

Stephens' plan would reduce the need for 20 dispatchers; savings would be realized through employee attrition or layoffs.

According to Stephens' figures, the dual system now costs the county $553,591 annually.

Of that amount, $183,927.12

is spent on sheriff's office dispatchers' salaries; $302,096.08 is spent on 911 dispatchers' salaries. The rest, $67,567.96, is spent on 911 administration. Combining the two would save $216,025.

Both Commission President George Patterson and Commissioner Doug Malone said they had only seen Stephens' proposal for the first time Tuesday morning and wanted time to crunch numbers before supporting or rejecting it.

"I just want to look at this. It's the first time I've heard of it," Malone said. "I want to look at the numbers."

Patterson said combining the two dispatch centers could have been done in the mid-1990s but at that time, some people were against it.

"We were working to put together an enhanced 911 and we got opposition from the sheriff's office and Ironton. At that time there were problems. It was more or less turf protection and they had no interest in doing that. Now, we're dealing with three unions,"

Patterson said, noting that in the future, the City of Ironton, whose dispatchers are also represented by a union, could opt to join a consolidated dispatch system. He also questioned how Stephens' plan would save the county money this year, nearly six months into the budget.

Sexton was not sheriff at the

time the consolidation was first discussed.

The sheriff said he would provide firm figures on his plan when he meets with the commissioners next week. Sexton said he had planned to present his proposal to the commission at its Thursday meeting, but that meeting was moved to Tuesday.

"I think the two dispatches should be combined. It's common sense, it's proper management of tax dollars and it will improve the sheriff's office," he said.

Sexton said his plan would consolidate services without eliminating jobs. He also said such a merger could be accomplished even with the difference in union representation.

When apprised of Stephens' plan, Sexton said. "Great minds must think alike. I've been working on my plan for about three weeks."

Lawrence County EMS Director Don Mootz was not available for comment on the matter.