Emergency 911 dispatch will remain local in Grant County.
The Intergovernmental Council that oversees the Grant County Emergency Communications Agency and a board comprised of entities that use dispatch each voted unanimously to keep a dispatch center in the county rather than outsourcing it to Frontier Regional 911 in Condon.
“We’re shooting for all our ducks to be in a row, including personnel management for payrolls and insurance, by the end of the calendar year,” said Ken Delano, who was appointed to chair the IGC.
The IGC was established in May 1989 to establish and maintain consolidated safety communications services in Grant County. Council members represented Grant County, eight cities and three rural fire protection districts. Delano was an original board member.
Both the council and the 911 User Board had not met regularly for years. The IGC legally reestablished itself earlier and held a joint meeting with the user board April 26.
The groups needed to clean up some of the original agreement language, including deleting the Prairie City Police Department from the board because it no longer existed and adding Granite, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Consensus was reached that current dispatch manager Valerie Maynard would continue to manage the dispatch center under the IGC after it leaves the city of John Day. A professional personnel contractor would be responsible for payroll and accounting under the IGC.
The dispatchers currently work under a collective bargaining agreement that runs to the end of the fiscal year in June 2019, Delano said. That would provide the IGC a six-month window to negotiate a new contract.
The IGC is not required to participate in the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), Delano said. It was too early to know for sure, he said, but he had been told both the IGC and the dispatchers could benefit from a 401(k) retirement system instead.
“The main concern is where to house the center and budgeting,” Delano said, adding that the transition will not be as complicated as many had feared.
“Let’s work together and get this done,” Canyon City Fire Chief Matt Turner said.
Turner had played an active role in helping reestablish the council and the board. He told the Grant County Court at its April 25 meeting that it didn’t make sense to ship $310,000 per year of spending for dispatch out of the county.
The Frontier offer was attractive to some 911 User Board members at its March 20 meeting, and the offer got better after Frontier offered Grant County a voting position on its board. Turner told the court that Frontier said its offer would still be good three years from now. Turner warned the court, however, if 911 dispatch leaves the county, it likely will never come back.
Delano told the joint meeting that John Day had offered to let the dispatch center continue to operate at its current location while the IGC finds and equips a new location.
Maynard said she had a $30,000 estimate for moving all the dispatch equipment to a new location, including some wiring and moving the backup generator, if necessary. That estimate depended on the state Office of Emergency Management approving the new site and picking up some computer costs, she said.
Six locations that were discussed included the county’s L Building on East Main Street and a former road department building south of the courthouse. Prairie City offered a building rent-free, and John Day offered to rent space in its new fire hall after remodeling is completed in September. Space in the federal building was available for $25 per square foot per year.
Todd McKinley, a member of the John Day Rural Fire Protection District knowledgeable about radio communications, noted that line-of-sight with Eagle Peak was needed for good communication, something both the L Building and the Prairie City site lack.
Both the John Day Fire Hall and the former road department building had good line-of-sight opportunities with Eagle Peak, but the best location in the long term would be a lot in the John Day Industrial Park near the airport, he said. That would eliminate layers of communication relaying needed at the current dispatch site.
Delano said the IGC needed to get up and running now and could look at a capital investment in an airport site five years from now.
“We need a quick decision now,” Delano said. “The IGC has zero money, and John Day is helping us transition.”