Progress on consolidating Crawford County’s 911 dispatch services continues
Progress continues to be made towards the ultimate goal of consolidating 911 dispatch services in Crawford County.
After welcoming new 911 communications director Joanie Best at the end of June, Crawford County Judge Dennis Gilstrap presented the new consolidated budget along with a memorandum of understanding for the operation of the emergency center and distribution of 911 to the mayors of the region present at the Intergovernmental Council on July 13. meeting held in the building of the county emergency management department.
The new consolidated system operating budget is approximately $ 1,000,614 and includes an allocation rate of $ 2.97 per capita for the county and its nine cities served by the system. The rate for Southwest EMS is based on an average of 8,000 calls per year.
“This new budget will begin on January 1,” Gilstrap said. “We will use funds from the current 911 budget by then. This is a carry-over of $ 800,000.
Gilstrap has decided to use the deferral now – and to pay Best on that deferral – until the new budget begins January 1, 2022, to give cities the flexibility to adjust their budgets accordingly.
“I didn’t want to hit the cities or the county in the middle of a budget year and say, ‘You have to come up with an X amount right now,’” Gilstrap said. “I didn’t want to hit the cities to set this up. The way we were organized, Alma paid his dispatchers, Van Buren paid his dispatchers, and the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department paid the county dispatchers out of their budgets. Now there will only be one budget starting in January.
The need to consolidate the three County Public Service Response Points (PSAPs) from their locations in Van Buren, Alma and the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office to one at the Sheriff’s Office emerged after the Legislature of the Arkansas passed Bill 660 in 2019 reducing the number of PSAPs from 102 to 77, a move against Gilstrap.
“The state’s goal was to make all 75 counties work the same way,” he said. “I was not for the legislation here in Crawford County. When I spoke to lawmakers in Little Rock, I used a Highlander analogy to explain it to them. I said, ‘Look, there’s 75 county judges in Arkansas. I wear a size 9 ½ boot. You can’t buy 75 pairs of 9 ½ boots and have them go to all those judges. It’s the same with these PSAPs.
He continued, “In Craighead County, for example, the 911 system is not managed by the county, it is managed by the town of Jonesboro. Again, this is the issue of the 9 ½ size boot. What works for some does not work for all.
Following the legislature’s decision, the Arkansas 911 Board polled the counties and came back with suggestions on how many PSAPs each county would need.
“We felt like we could sit down and wait for them to tell us how to do it or we could just do it the way it worked for us,” Gilstrap said. “This report has come out within the last two weeks, and it indicated that Crawford County needs to come together into one PSAP.”
But the county had already started its own consolidation process.
“With what we have in place and with a director already on board, and we are putting together the (memoranda of understanding) to work with the cities to get everything in place to start the first of the year, we are ahead on the state already, ”said the judge. “We’re ahead of what they want to go.”
The MOUs explain the county’s responsibilities in the agreement and how the money will be distributed according to the plan as well as what would happen to the equipment and how the funds would be redistributed to the cities if the consolidated 911 system was lost. .
Crawford County initially made the decision to move to a three PSAP system in 1991.
“At that point, I felt like we probably would have been fine to go to just one PSAP, but we didn’t,” Gilstrap said. “Over the years, money has been spent and PSAPs have been improved, and I think our appeals have been answered as effectively as they could have been. When you talk about communication at any level, there will always be a problem somewhere. But saying all this, I got the impression that ours was working fine.
He added: “Our system was not down. I can’t help but say it. It wasn’t broken.
The current 911 system in Crawford County is overseen by a 911 Advisory Board made up of the Alma and Van Buren Police and Fire Chiefs, the County Fire Coordinator, the EMS Director and a County Citizen .
“The advisory board met earlier this year and suggested that we set up a committee that would review budgets and begin to establish an overall budget for consolidation that would deal with salaries, cash inflows and outflows,” those things, ”Gilstrap said. “I want to congratulate the people who were part of this committee. The work they did made things a lot smoother and helped us get to where we are now.
The county then submitted a letter to the Arkansas 911 Board explaining its intention to move from three PSAPs to one.
Gilstrap said the transfer issue is at the root of the consolidation plan. Lawmakers hope the new plan will help reduce the number of 911 calls transferred from one agency to another.
“There was a situation where some people in central Arkansas made a call and were transferred a couple of times, so the state’s goal was to improve the system and try to remove the transfers, ”Gilstrap said. “The way we were set up here, we were almost a virtual system. Our equipment was installed where geographically the calls reached the towers they should have reached. It didn’t always work that way but, for the most part, if you were in Van Buren, the call went to dispatchers in the town of Van Buren. If you were in Alma, it went to Alma. If you were in the other regions, he went to the county.
One case where it didn’t work out that way was in 2011 when there was an active shooter incident at the Crawford County Courthouse. Some 911 calls reporting a gunman at the courthouse ended up going to Sebastian County, and law enforcement officers were dispatched to the Sebastian County courthouse instead.
Gilstrap said 911 call takers in the consolidated system will still need to transfer calls to Arkansas State Police if necessary, but additional training for dispatchers could reduce typical transfer calls to Southwest EMS.
“Call takers / dispatchers will be trained in EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatch),” said Gilstrap. “Our goal is to reduce this transfer to EMS dispatchers. We’ll be in one place and can go ahead and divide the call. Getting them to EMD is also a training issue.
Gilstrap said that over the years there had been no charge for dispatching 911 work, as each of the three entities paid their own dispatchers.
“The only way we could do it that way was because Alma was paying their dispatchers, Van Buren was paying their dispatchers, and the sheriff’s office was paying theirs from their own budgets,” he said. “Now this consolidation will put all spending back on the county. And it’s not a lucrative thing for the county or anyone else.
The new law specifies that each city must pay a fair share of the bill.
“The way we deliver it to cities is like sales tax revenue, that everything is set up on a per capita basis,” Gilstrap said. “So everyone will pay per capita. EMS will pay per call.
Gilstrap asked mayors at Tuesday’s meeting to review the budget and memoranda of understanding and make their decisions by September 1 to give the county enough time to complete the process by January 1.
“Our goal is to flip the switch and go from three response points to one on January 1, 2022,” he said. “This throws up where everyone during the budget season can look at the numbers and figure it out.”
Gilstrap said he was happy with the steps the county has taken so far to meet the January 1 consolidation target date.
“I think we are ahead of a lot of things,” he said. “I am delighted to continue this program and to make it happen. No one will ever expect to hear me say that, but I am.