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State police to provide dispatch estimates for county

BY CARRIE DILLARD cdillard@paducahsun.com

There are no easy answers when it comes to how to fund the Paducah-McCracken County E911 Emergency Communications Services in the future.

One option is to simply contract with the state police for dispatch services, but there's nothing simple about it.

Paducah Police Chief Brandon Barnhill, a member of the E911 board, worries about potential jobs lost.

Neither the city of Paducah nor McCracken County, which co-own the dispatch center and have representatives on the board, is willing to move forward without cost estimates of each entity's obligation.

The E911 board is considering alternative funding sources because of declining revenues from phone landline fees, a problem that has grown over the last decade.

About two months ago, the McCracken Fiscal Court heard a presentation about state police dispatch services. The E911 board heard a similar presentation by Kentucky State Police Post 1 Commander Capt. Nathan C. Kent on Tuesday.

Kent stated the state police do not solicit business but are prepared to provide dispatching services at the request of cities or counties who need it.

In July 2010, the state police determined a statewide standard of pricing for dispatch services, so everyone from Paducah to Pikeville was paying the same, Kent said. This was also thought to be the "break-even" point for the agency to continue to be able to provide services, he added, without going in the red.

The current standard price, set in 2012, is $46,207 per veteran dispatcher per year.

To determine a new partner's annual cost, state police would multiply the number of necessary dispatchers by the standard rate.

State police has the right to revisit that standard in even years, but there was no change in 2014.

For any potential new partner, Kent said, the number of needed dispatchers must be determined. This is compiled in a technical document that includes the number of agencies served, number of calls, type of radio equipment used, number of channels used and current number of dispatchers.

"This gives us the data of how many dispatchers we need to hire to take on the new partner's call volume," Kent said.

Most recently, Post 1 is taking over dispatching services for Mayfield, which will require four additional dispatchers for a total of 20.

In addition to the annual fee, a new partner would also assume a one-time cost for equipment upgrades and adding radio channels.

"This cost differs for every partner we take on," Kent said. "I can't speak to those numbers today (for Paducah and McCracken County)."

Once the initial costs are paid, state police assume the responsibility for all equipment and subsequent upgrades.

Contract agreements between the partner and the state police are indefinite, he said, but the partner does have a 90-day "opt out" provision.

Barnhill asked about the potential for state police to hire existing dispatchers in Paducah and McCracken County, should they be asked to take over dispatching services.

Kent assured him that existing staff would be given a chance for positions that would be created, but there is always the potential some employees will lose their jobs.

"We don't minimize the consideration of local officials of that reality," he said "We're going to hire a greater number of people, and there's no better than the best of the best from the partner agency."

Kent confirmed the McCracken Fiscal Court had filed initial paperwork seeking a cost estimate from the state police late Monday night.

Despite an agreement between the city and county, the county filed these documents without the city's knowledge, said Paducah City Commissioner Carol Gault, who serves on the board.

Jerry Beyer, McCracken County commission representative, said the county filed those documents to "ask for information."

"The county's 911 budget is $430,000, not including the city's contribution," Beyer said. "By the figures he (Kent) is giving today, that would pay for 10 dispatchers. It had to be looked at as an option."

Kent commented on the friction between the two entities, stating that the state police would not be used as a wedge politically.

"We are apolitical and nonpartisan. As we move forward, our ultimate responsibility is to the project," he said.

"The city and the county need to decide if they want to remain partners" before entering into an agreement with the state police, he noted.

The board decided to get a cost analysis for the county and for the city separately, knowing that if they remained co-operators of the 911 center the two estimates could be combined for an overall total.

Should the board seek a partnership with state police, Kent estimated it would take six to 12 months before state police would take over dispatch services entirely.

Contact Carrie Dillard, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8657.

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