Barnes County commissioners approved in a 3-2 vote to move 911 operations to the county. The decision came after much discussion both during the regular county commission meeting Tuesday and in meetings prior involving the city and county over who would control 911.
A mid-2013 deadline to upgrade existing 911 systems to digital, “next generation” 911 was set by Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Valley City and Barnes County are interested in a joint powers agreement that has been formed between Richland and Stutsman County for sharing the cost of the new equipment.
Before entering that agreement, though, the county needed to determine who controlled 911. Both city and county commissions have been in disagreement about it.
Currently Police Chief Fred Thompson oversees dispatch and had asked the county to allow him to continue.
County commissioners John Froelich and Phil Leitner want the county to enter into another one-year contract with the City of Valley City for the Valley City Police Department to run 911 operations, while county commissioner Eldred Knutson was vocal about seeing the operations moved to the county.
Froelich said he doesn’t find the switch necessary, citing that he doesn’t see where the effects of it are going to be better.
“I’m not going to vote to spend taxpayer’s money to fix something that (doesn’t) need fixing,” Froelich said.
Knutson said the county should control 911 “because if we’re going to be the governing board (of 911) we need to be involved and do a lot of these things here.”
“It’s our job,” he added.
County commissioner Cindy Schwehr said she was impartial as to who would run the operations but firmly believes the coordinator should not be either the sheriff of police chief.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with either one of them; they’re both great people. I just think that it becomes too much of a possession of that department,” Schwehr said.
An ultimate approval came after a 3-2 vote for the county to be in charge of 911 operations, which turns dispatchers who are currently city employees into county employees. Barnes County emergency manager Kim Franklin will serve as temporary coordinator until a full-time coordinator is hired.
Valley City City Administrator David Schelkoph said he was disappointed with the county’s decision, but that the city will cooperate to make the switch.
The VCPD currently has five dispatchers and is in the process of hiring another.
The dispatchers and 911 equipment will be moved to a location within the Sheriff’s Office, which is located in the Law Enforcement Center in Valley City, across the hall from the Police Department.
To pay for the salary of the six dispatchers, the county approved a cost-share agreement that would be divided among the county, city and 911 fund, The county approved a cost-share agreement for the six dispatcher salaries that will be divided among the city, county and 911 fund at 1, 2 and 3, respectively, for the year of 2013.
The decision came after negotiations with the city during an Oct. 4 meeting.
The county has a close deadline of Jan. 1 to work out further details, move equipment and hire appropriate staff for the 911 operations.
In other county business, commissioners voted unanimously to appoint Ken Evenson to the Barnes County Water Board, and Leitner updated the commission with details on the search for a new county auditor.
The auditor search committee has found seven candidates and will conduct interviews Oct. 24.