County funds 911 equipment
First step to closure of 911 centerJefferson County commissioners took the first step toward closing the county's 911 dispatch center and merging it with Tri-County Communications last Wednesday.
Sheriff Jim Adkins received approval from the County Commission to spend $93,027 on equipment to upgrade the radio communication between the county and Tri-Com -- the dispatch center in Condon that serves Sherman, Wheeler and Gilliam counties.
"This equipment is going to allow us to shut down this dispatch center, so we can move forward," said Adkins, who ordered the equipment last week. "Our timeline is to have Tri-Com online Oct. 1."
Under the agreement between Jefferson County and Tri-Com, signed on June 27, Tri-Com has been paying $3,500 a month for administrative duties by April Stream, who has served as director of the Jefferson County 911 dispatch center since its inception.
The county and Tri-Com have not yet settled on what it will cost the county to join Tri-Com.
"Jeff Rasmussen (county administrator) and their financial person are negotiating some issues," said Adkins. "It's still within the ballpark of what we want; the cost savings should still be there."
The state, which has 50 Public Access Safety Points, including Jefferson County's 911 dispatch center, funds their operations primarily with a tax on any circuit or device capable of accessing 911 -- whether cellular, wireless or radio common carrier. That amounts to 75 cents per month for each phone or device per subscriber.
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 which ended June 30.
While the revenue from the tax has remained fairly static, costs -- particularly for personnel -- have continued to rise, creating an increasing funding problem.
In 2007-08, the 911 tax covered about 50 percent of the operation, but for the current year, it was expected to cover only 33 percent before the county dispatch center laid off one employee.
The dispatch center currently employs five people -- down from seven last year -- including Stream. Out of the four dispatchers, Adkins said, only one lives in Jefferson County; two live in Crook County, and one in Deschutes County.
In his interactions with the public, Adkins said that most people don't care where the call is taken -- as long as someone answers the phone and dispatches police, fire or emergency medical services personnel.
"They understand the cost savings," he said. "They don't want me to lay off any deputies if there's a way to do that."