The People's Tribune

Progress Continues In Discussion Toward Centralized 911 Services

Panel Identifies Concerns, Goals For Moving Forward

While there continues to be differences of opinion on the best way to consolidate 911 services for Pike County, progress is being made as the new panel held their second official meeting last week.

The panel has identified concerns of the many stakeholders and has started to analyze solutions for moving forward.

“I believe the discussion has been started,” remarked Eastern District Commissioner Justin Sheppard. “Everyone in that room is for better dispatching services for the county.”

The panel consists of Sheppard, Larry Beauchamp of the Pike County Fire Chiefs Association, Tylie Mills of the Pike County Ambulance Service, Pike County Memorial Hospital EMA Director Tommy Beauchamp, Louisiana Mayor Bart Niedner (Pike County Mayor’s Association), Bowling Green Police Chief Don Nacke, Pike County Sheriff Stephen Korte, 911 Director Sara Cunningham and three at-large members that include Gale Frolos, Mary Millan and Kevin Keeley. The ultimate goal of the panel is to recommend a path toward centralization of 911 services that addresses the concerns of stakeholders.

The panel was set up by Pike County Commissioners following a tense meeting with Louisiana city officials in April. The commission had sent a letter to Louisiana in mid-April to inform the city they would no longer be providing an annual payment of $25,000 to Louisiana to help fund their dispatching services. That agreement was set up many years ago and has no paper trail. Commissioners at the time said they wanted to begin moving to centralized 911 but there was not an action plan to move forward.

By the end of that meeting, the commission opted to rescind their decision to revoke the funding agreement that has been in place until a concentrated effort including all parties had been made to identify the best path to centralization.

While Louisiana city officials indicated they were in favor of consolidating the services into one place, there has been intense disagreement about how it should be done.

Louisiana Mayor Bart Niedner pointed out that he wants to do what is best for the region he represents and ensure the best emergency services.

Currently there are three dispatching services in Pike County. The Pike County Sheriff’s Department handles dispatching for 14 agencies, there is a dispatching service in the Louisiana Police Department and at Pike County Memorial Hospital for ambulance calls.

Many are in favor of consolidating all the services into an independent location with independent oversight. The problem with most all plans comes down to money.

Missouri is the only state that does not collect a fee on mobile phones for 911 services. Sheppard pointed out that while a proposal has been passed in the House for the past three years, the Senate has declined to take action on it.

Pike County currently receives about $170,000 to $200,000 annually from the land line tax, but the move to cellular phones has made that number dwindle every year.

That money is collected by the county and from the general revenue fund is turned over to the Sheriff’s Department (with the exception of the $25,000 payment to Louisiana).

Sheriff Stephen Korte says his department has dispatching services in the jail area, though he notes it could easily be moved to another area of the facility so it stands alone. He suggests that option provides the least amount of expense while keeping some emergency services together.

Mayor Niedner and others have expressed concerns with that option. Niedner argues that 911 services should have independent, appointed oversight. Sara Cunningham is the current 911 director but has previously handled mapping and other areas outside of the day-to-day operation of the county’s system.

It has been further suggested that the county keep 911 funds separate from general revenue funds. Sheppard has agreed that making the 911 budget separate would be a good idea moving forward.

At an interview with commissioners on Monday, July 17, Sheppard said no concrete recommendations have been made by the panel to the Pike County Commission at this time. He indicated the panel is still doing research.

Another area of concern is the dispatching software and training for dispatchers which is different for the two operations. The panel agreed that it would be optimal to bring more cohesiveness to the separate operations even if a centralized effort can’t be achieved in the immediate future.

The panel is also looking to eliminate the second call that has to be made when an ambulance needs to be dispatched. PCMH agreed to examine ways to streamline this process with the dispatch centers at the Sheriff’s Department and the Louisiana Police Department.

Niedner said he was optimistic about the progress that is being made by the panel.

“I will always protect the best interests of Louisiana as I understand them and want to assure skeptics that we are not headed into a centralized 911 system blindly (or at all at this point),” he shared on social media. “We have a lot of work to do, especially on funding, and I will not put Louisiana in a situation where we reduce services or are at the unrepresented mercy of another agency for emergency services.”

He added the meetings have already generated some positive possibilities to improve responsiveness right away.

The panel opted to begin adhering to Missouri Sunshine Law for future meetings. Times and minutes will be made available to the public. Sheppard said the group has agreed to meet on the second Thursday of every month. The next meeting will be held on Thursday, Aug. 10 at Pike County Memorial Hospital.

The panel examined the system at the Sheriff’s Department previously, a tour of the Louisiana facility is planned in the future.

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