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Commissioners support central dispatch study

July 20, 2011

PLYMOUTH — Centralizing the dispatch of emergency personnel around Marshall County will be the focus of a study by an ad hoc committee in the coming months.
Plymouth Mayor Mark Senter came before the Marshall County Council a week ago, urging such a move and he — along with County Councilman Ward Byers — came before the Marshall County Commissioners to gain their support for the study.
The County Council unanimously supported the formation of the committee to study the possibility of a central dispatch for Marshall County emergency personnel. How such a system would operate and how it would be paid for would be the focus of the committee. Byers and Senter told the Commissioners that all governmental jurisdictions with a stake in such a system should have representation on the committee.
Byers stressed to the Commissioners the need to have all jurisdictions represented to allow them to voice their opinions and suggestions on the matter. Senter agreed stating there were a lot of questions to clear up before such a central dispatch could be formed.
Currently all 911 calls in Marshall County — no matter the time of day — are handled by operators at the Marshall County Jail under the command of the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department. While some local governmental jurisdictions have their own dispatch center for emergency personnel during normal business hours for non-911 calls, most hand those duties over to operators at the Sheriff’s Department at night and most pay the county for that service.
Operators at the Sheriff’s Department are “cross trained” to handle both normal dispatch and 911 calls. The committee will study whether it would be more efficient, desirable and cost effective to have the Department handle all calls on a “24/7” basis.
Sheriff Tom Chamberlin presented an estimate to the County Council that a local governmental agency operating a 24/7 dispatch center would incur a yearly cost in just salary and benefits for employees of close to $200,000. Currently the county charges those jurisdictions just $4000 for the service. Chamberlin is also dealing with a $91,000 shortfall in funds for the dispatch service being provided.
The committee would be tasked with making a recommendation to the Commissioners and County Council on whether a central dispatch would be desirable and economically feasible, and — if so — make recommendations on how such a system would be set up and paid for.
The Commissioners gave their support to the project but since governmental budgets for the coming year are close to completion it is unlikely that any recommendation would be implemented in the coming year. The committee was given a timetable of early spring to make a recommendation to county officials.

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