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E-911 board begins review sans director

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

Sprawling changes are on tap for Paducah-McCracken County's Emergency Communication Center, but many decisions will have to wait until the E-911 board hires a director.

The board met Tuesday for the first time since reporting several much-needed changes to both the Paducah City Commission and McCracken Fiscal Court. The board instructed a representative from Almont Associates to review the E-911 center, which began over the winter. With a combination of site visits and three months of research, the consultant concluded the center had issues with staffing, funding, accountability and site maintenance. The majority of those changes, however, won't be made until a new director is found.

"There are so many moving parts," Paducah Police Chief Brandon Barnhill said. "We want to give whoever this person is a fair shot at being successful. If we do a staffing overhaul and make shift changes and eliminate certain positions, those are things a new director should have input on."

The center has been without a director since last fall. The applicant pool is down to five, and the board's hiring committee will be meeting with candidates throughout the next month.

Decisions on adopting a new staffing policy and eliminating the center's assistant director position were tabled. A new director would potentially have time to get his or her feet wet at the facility before making a recommendation on those changes to the board.

The board also named members to several subcommittees on Tuesday: one to examine a new fee system to help bring in money for the center, a second to look into the center becoming a city department, and a third to examine a potential merge with Mercy Ambulance's communications center.

The lengthy report recommended fixes for the center's funding deficit - the city and county both subsidize the E-911 budget, but the expenses have risen as land line phone fees drop - including a pay-per-parcel fee system that has potential to raise the amount of money the center brings in. Several counties in Kentucky rely on per-parcel payments, and the committee plans to research the various ways to bring in more money.

Commonwealth Attorney Dan Boaz, a board member, and County Attorney Mike Murphy will meet in the coming weeks to discuss whether the center will become a city department. E-911 employees already are paid through the city, the city handles its human resource issues, and the center is covered under insurance provided by the Kentucky League of Cities. In the report, Almont stated the lack of an effective chain of command has reduced morale and hurt the center's operations.

While the committees will continue to research the major changes associated with the consultant report, the board approved some minor fixes Tuesday. The consultant recommended a complete overhaul of the center's structure, including security changes and major renovations, as well as building a new dispatch center. The board agreed to make minor changes, such as fresh paint and new carpet, to improve the overall atmosphere. 

A potential merger between Mercy Ambulance Service's communications center and the city-county center will also be reviewed. Mercy Director Jamey Locke, who sits on the E-911 board, along with Interim Director Brent Stringer, will review a work plan that could outline the merger. The merger would not necessarily bring extra income into the center, but it would streamline communication between dispatchers and Mercy and should help effectiveness, the report says.

The consulting group also recommended trimming the board from 11 members to seven. The board voted against that Tuesday but agreed to reconsider when the center was more stable.

The board next meets on May 15. 

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

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