Letting the Kentucky State Police take over 911 dispatching services in McCracken County might make a lot of sense. It could be a less expensive way for the city and county to offer the service. And if KSP did take over the task, it would also be one less point of potential friction between the city and county, which presently jointly fund the local E911 service in what has been at times an uneasy partnership.
Tuesday the E911 board heard a presentation from KSP Post 1 Commander Nathan Kent about the state police option. Kent made clear to the board that the agency is not soliciting the business; rather, it responds to inquiries from local governments and agencies about what its service is and what it costs.
Kent said in July of 2010 the KSP, which offers dispatching service for a number of mostly smaller communities, established a statewide standard price for its dispatch services so that "everyone from Paducah to Pikeville" was receiving the same rate. The KSP also doesn't seek to make money on its service. Its rate is set at "break-even." The price, last set in 2012, is $46,207 per veteran dispatcher per year.
It might be a heck of a deal. It was disclosed at Tuesday's board meeting that the county has filed formal paperwork seeking a cost estimate for KSP to provide the service. That took the city's representative on the board, City Commissioner Carol Gault, by surprise, leading her to express some frustration.
However County Commissioner Jerry Beyer, the county's representative on the E911 board, explained, "The county's 911 budget is $430,000, not including the city contribution. By the figures he (Kent) is giving, that would pay for 10 dispatchers. It had to be looked at as an option."
Well, it's more like nine dispatchers plus a part-timer based on the price, but Beyer is right - when you look at the manpower costs and the economies of scale that might be achieved in the KSP's consolidated system, the city and county might find this to be a very cost effective solution.
The cost of providing the service locally is a growing problem because it is largely funded by a tax on telephone landlines. The number of landlines is declining and tax revenues along with them as more and more consumers opt to use cell phones instead.
Paducah Police Chief Brandon Barnhill expressed concern about the potential job losses if the local E911 system were replaced by the KSP service. While he made no specific commitments, Kent said experienced staff from the local system would be strongly considered to fill the new jobs at the KSP should the city and/or county go that route.
Another plus of the KSP proposal is equipment costs. There would be a one-time expense for equipment purchases necessary for the KSP to take on the local 911 service, but after that all equipment purchases and upgrades would be the responsibility of the KSP.
It strikes us that the city should probably follow the county's lead and look at what the savings might be if the local service were consolidated under the KSP. The financial underpinning of the system has been eroding, and the city-county partnership has not been without its share of politics and friction.
If outsourcing the service to the KSP is a simpler and less expensive option, with no loss in quality of service, local officials would be remiss not to consider it.