Debate on 911 center continues tonight

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 17, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — First the county wanted the city to move in.
Now, the city wants the county to move in.
In a two-page letter to Rowan County Manager Gary Page, Interim City Manager Doug Paris invites the county to temporarily move its 911 call center into the Salisbury Police Department rent-free. Paris asked Page to discuss the city’s offer with the Rowan County Board of Commissioners at 6 p.m. today.
The county plans to build a new 911 Telecommunications Center on Old Concord Road.
“Delaying our plans right now would be a pretty bad direction at the moment,” said Chad Mitchell, chairman of the Board of Commissioners.
While the city’s offer was made in good faith, Mitchell said, the county would risk losing $590,000 from the state’s 911 reserve fund if commissioners stopped the building process. The money expires in June 2012, he said.
Commissioners tonight will consider architect’s renderings of the building, and Mitchell said he will vote to move forward with construction, including space for the city.
Paris’ proposal for the county to move into the Police Department is the latest development in an ongoing dispute between Paris and Page over 911 dispatch consolidation. The city dispatches 911 calls for the Salisbury Police Department. The county dispatches all other 911 calls.
The two managers disagree over whether Page gave the city a 30-day deadline to co-locate 911 services, how to spend $1.2 million in taxpayer dollars from the 2009 public safety bond referendum and whether to study 911 consolidation.
Page said the city’s offer to move into the Police Department comes too late in the process. The county has been working on a plan for two years to update 911 equipment, towers and the building, he said.
“I can’t justify not moving forward,” he said.
The county wanted to consolidate 911 services several years ago but until recently saw no indication the city would agree, Page said. The county still has the door open to the city to move into the new 911 center, whether the services merge or not, he said.
“There are still ways that we can save and work together,” he said.
Page said Paris’ offer would require the city and county to agree on every issue, including potentially contentious items like service agreements and staffing levels.
“I don’t think we could agree on everything from this point forward,” Page said.
There’s no guarantee the city would agree to consolidation after completing a lengthy study, Page and Mitchell said. Then the county would have lost the state money, missed deadlines and still not have a new building, they said.
“I started working on this shortly after I arrived three and a half years ago,” Page said. “We have timed this out.”
Page recently ran several advertisements in the Salisbury Post featuring a Sept. 20 letter he wrote to Paris, which Page said had been twisted at the Oct. 4 City Council meeting. Paris did not show Page’s letter to council members before their meeting.
Late Friday afternoon, the city issued a press release detailing Paris’ letter and offer to Page. The release and letter also ran on the city’s Facebook page.
Paris called the past two weeks “challenging” and said he wants to “move the 911 dispatch discussions in a positive direction for all Rowan County citizens.”
“While I have full faith in your ability to solve this issue with me, at this time I am requesting that we form a study group to move this item forward,” Paris wrote to Page, suggesting the group include both of them, as well as elected officials.
The city wants the county to join in a lengthy 911 consolidation feasibility study. Page has said the county previously offered to study the issue and the city declined, and now Rowan County is up against a federal deadline for new equipment and must move forward with the recommended new building.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Oct. 3 to include free space for the city in the new 911 Telecommunications Center, planned for Old Concord Road. If the city moves in, the county could apply for state 911 funds to build a back-up 911 center.
City Council voted unanimously Oct. 4 to pursue a consolidation study, which would show whether merging 911 dispatch would improve the service but the study could take six months. If the county participates, the state could fund not only the study but the new 911 building.
Page has said the county is outgrowing its 911 center in the Sheriff’s Office. Paris argues if Page moves the center into the Police Department, which has space available on the second floor, the county can put the new building on hold and join the city in the study.
Paris said the scenario “would allow a real life test of the co-location concept and provide valuable experience and feedback before capital expenditures are made” and “allow the $1.2 million in tax funds to be utilized for other public safety radio needs or roll off the books early.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.