Under a new, cost-saving 911 dispatch plan, Jefferson County may close its dispatch center and move operations to Condon -- about 85 miles northeast of Madras.
>County would lay off four employees
On Wednesday, the Jefferson County Commission will consider a plan to join up with the well-funded Tri-County Communications -- Tri-Com, the dispatch center serving Sherman, Wheeler and Gillam counties -- as early as October or November.
Talk of consolidation, which could eventually include Crook County, began last year, but has become more urgent as costs have increased and revenue has decreased.
The state's 911 dispatch centers are primarily funded by a tax on devices that are capable of accessing the emergency number -- including cellular, wireless or radio common carrier. Devices are taxed at 75 cents per month, per subscriber.
The taxes collected are distributed to the state's 240 cities and 36 counties, with each of the state's 50 Public Service Access Points receiving about 1 percent. The state has indicated that it plans to reduce the number of PSAPs to just nine regional centers, so the county hopes to be proactive by combining with another dispatch center before it is mandated by the state.
Although distribution is based on population, no county receives less than 1 percent, which means even the smallest counties receive about $280,000. With a total population of about 5,000, the three counties that make up Tri-Com receive about $840,000 -- more than Jefferson County's total dispatch budget of $721,705 for the fiscal year ending June 30.
Jefferson County's dispatch center currently employs five people -- down from seven last year -- but has one vacant position, which hasn't been filled.
Longtime dispatch center director April Stream has been working at the Tri-Com center since the beginning of May as part-time director, according to Jeff Rasmussen, county administrator.
If the plan is approved, Sheriff Jim Adkins anticipates laying off the four remaining dispatchers, three of whom live outside of the county.
"Some of them have been with us for 16 or 17 years," said Adkins, noting that he couldn't have operated the state's most efficient dispatch center without them. "I'm very grateful for their service."
Tri-Com has nine dispatchers and a part-time director (Stream), but could add another couple of dispatchers if combined with Jefferson County's dispatch center.
"I sent a letter to Tri-Com asking how much it's going to cost us, and I expect to have that answer by the end of this week or early next week," said Adkins, who met with local users -- the cities of Madras, Metolius and Culver, the Jefferson County Fire Department, Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services, and Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue on June 19.
Users, who provided $363,453 in fees last year, and will provide $338,647 this year, were generally supportive of the move.
"On the surface, I think it's a good idea," said Jefferson County Fire Chief Doug Dawson. "The state is going to be pushing to reduce the number of 911 centers."
"I think Jefferson County and the sheriff are doing the right thing by being proactive," he continued. "The hope is that the service may improve and the cost go down. If you can achieve that, then you've accomplished a lot."
Adkins believes that is achievable. "I think that level of service will increase exponentially because of the number of dispatchers that will be on duty at any time," he said.
"With technology the way it is, those dispatchers will not have difficulty sending police, fire and EMS to where emergencies are located," said Adkins. "They're already doing it for an extended distance; it's just an added population to them."
There is also a possibility that the local center would remain open.
"Tri-Com has asked if we would be able to have an office here and I said I would be open to that," said Adkins.
"I think there's going to be some bumps to iron out as we move to something new, but I think this is going to be good for the sheriff's office," he said. "They're going to be able to handle multiple emergencies at one time."