County Plans to Stick to 9-1-1 Plan

In spite of reports from another media outlet, county commissioners currently do not plan to take over operations of the 9-1-1 system by Jan. 1 according to Barnes County Commissioner Eldred Knutson. The commission will, however, consider taking over financial oversight of the public safety answering point by Jan. 1 at its next meeting.

According to County Commissioner Eldred Knutson, Jan. 1 was his personal goal, but the county commissioners will keep its deadline of July 16 for taking over 9-1-1 operations from the City of Valley City.
Currently, Barnes County contracts with Valley City for 9-1-1 operations, but the county wants to take back control of the system and move it out of the police department and into another office in the Law Enforcement Building.

The city doesn’t have a problem with changing the location of the 9-1-1 system, according to Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson, who is currently charged with overseeing the system. It should be a stand-alone operation so that dispatchers’ focus can be answering calls, and moving it to a private location would protect the privacy of 9-1-1 callers, he said.

But city officials are protesting the change of operational control. One reason is because the county has not provided a plan for future operations or for the transition, according to Valley City Administrator David Schelkoph. During its last meeting, Schelkoph addressed the county commission. Without a transitional plan or an operation plan, the city is uncomfortable turning over control of the system to the county, he said. He also told the county commission that the city wonders if the lack of plans is indicative of how the county will run the 9-1-1 system.

Some issues the city believe the county still needs to address include how benefits such as pay and earned time off for dispatchers currently under city employment would be handled. For example, if a city 9-1-1 dispatcher has earned sick days or vacation days, what would happen to those when dispatchers become county employees.

Also, the city questions who would perform back-up duties for dispatchers who need a break, a job currently performed by Valley City Police officers.

During last week’s meeting, Knutson suggested back-up could be done by county jail employees, since more than one is always present. But Thompson fears that if jailers are busy attending to prisoners, then back-up wouldn’t be available.

During that meeting, it was brought to the county’s commissioners’ attention that the 9-1-1 contract the city is currently operating under doesn’t expire until July 16, 2013, and to take over the 9-1-1 before then could amount to breech of contract could leave the county open to lawsuits. County commissioners agreed then to push their deadline for taking over the system back to July, though no vote was taken on the matter.

According to Schelkoph, however, he doesn’t know about a lawsuit. He would like to work with the county officials to erase any concerns they have with the city’s operation of the 9-1-1 system.

“It’s in everybody’s best interest for everyone to look at this issue - for the city and Barnes County,” he said, adding that he has no ill-will toward the county.

He was relieved to hear that the county wanted to take over financial oversight of the public safety answering point by Jan 1, not operations of the entire 9-1-1 system.

The Barnes County Commission will hold its next regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 8 a.m. in the Commissioner’s Room at the Barnes County Courthouse.