The Valley City city commission met Wednesday during a special meeting to discuss its reaction to the Barnes County commission’s decision to move 911 operations to the Barnes County Sheriff’s Office.
The county voted Tuesday to regain control of 911 effective Jan. 1, which would make dispatchers county employees instead of city employees. The change also means moving equipment to a room in the Sheriff’s office and hiring a full-time 911 coordinator.
The debate over 911 operations has been an ongoing process between the city and county. With the county’s decision, the city’s main concern is how it’s going to go about the transition process.
Currently, the county is the governing board of 911 operations, but the Valley City Police Department is contracted to be in charge of operations, with Police Chief Fred Thompson overseeing dispatch.
City Administrator David Schelkoph reiterated previous statements during Wednesday’s meeting. He told the commission that he’d like 911 to be overseen by the Valley City Police Department because “Thompson has ample training and experience in administering 911 policies and procedures.”
“I would like to take advantage of that, and I would think that the county would like to have that advantage too,” Schelkoph said.
Another concern the commissioners have with the transition is the cost. The county already needs to buy new equipment due to a proposal set by Gov. Jack Dalrymple for all North Dakota counties to update existing 911 systems to digital, “next generation” 911. 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.
City commissioner Duane Magnuson said that he finds the cost of moving 911 and hiring new employees to be unnecessary.
After city commissioner Matt Pedersen asked what the dispatchers thought of the county’s decision, Thompson and Andrea Suhr, dispatcher and 911 coordinator, told commissioners some of the issues involving dispatchers are being resolved.
Suhr said there are a few concerns she and other dispatchers have if they were to move to the county side, but said she hasn’t heard anything directly from them.
One of Thompson’s concerns is that dispatchers now take on more administrative duties than they should. He’s working to make sure the dispatchers focus on dispatching, for which they were hired and trained to do.
After discussion, the city adopted a resolution, asking the county commission to answer their questions before having another meeting.
City officials agreed they want the county to tell them the reason they want to move 911 to county control, the costs associated with the switch, how the employees will be transitioned and the plans for day-to-day operations of 911.