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Consultant: Paducah-McCracken E-911 center needs change

BY CORIANNE EGANcegan@paducahsun.com

Sweeping changes to the Paducah-McCracken County Emergency Communication Center may be on tap in the coming months after a consulting group recommended fixes to staffing and funding issues.

Stuart McElhaney, of Almont Associates, presented a list of recommendations to the Paducah City Commission and McCracken Fiscal Court separately on Monday, after more than three months of research and site visits. The joint E-911 communications center has had issues with staffing and funding, and uses a building that needs modifications or an overhaul, McElhaney told commissioners.

"It's nice to have our head out of the sand here," City Manager Jeff Pederson said. "Now it's time to make hard decisions. There's a lot here to digest."

McElhaney talked of a funding deficit for the center - the city and county both pay half, and expenses have risen exponentially in the past five years. He also reported a lack of an effective chain of command at the dispatch center. The center has lacked a director for the better part of a year.

Part of the center's revenue is tied to land line phone fees, and as land line usage declines, the revenue follows. Almont recommended looking into alternative funding sources, including a partnership with Mercy Ambulance to run its dispatched calls, or a pay-per-parcel fee system to make sure most residents are paying for emergency dispatch. A bill being considered in the Kentucky General Assembly would allow mobile phone 911 fees.

Almont's suggested fixes included making the E-911 center effectively a city department, as it already relies on the city for payroll and human resources. The consulting group also recommended trimming the board from 11 members to seven, consolidating the center with Mercy Ambulance's dispatch, and revising the city-county agreement.

The E-911 board will meet in the next two weeks on the recommendations, and will offer a list of steps to take, Pederson said. The City Commission has agreed to take up the topic again to smooth out the center's future.

In other business, City Commission members did a first-read on an ordinance that would transfer ownership of the Columbia Theatre to the Columbia Club, a group that wants to rehabilitate the building. The transfer would allow easier applications for grants.

The city also introduced an ordinance to renew City Manager Jeff Pederson's contract. The measure would extend his contract through 2016 and increase his salary to $150,000 a year.

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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