Willamette Valley Communications Center, Salem
Five out of six Lincoln County fire agencies that are dispatched by Lincom 9-1-1 in Newport have released their position paper on why they favor dispatch services being switched to a regional dispatch center in Salem that already dispatches for 17 law enforcement and fire district agencies in the Willamette Valley, and which provide mobile computer services for Toledo and Lincoln City Police. Their position paper is entitled “Fire Services Stand with Law Enforcement Agencies on 9-1-1 Move.”
Here’s what they want the public to know:
Public discussion continues about the concept of transferring public safety dispatch services from LinCom, our local agency, to Willamette Valley Communications Center (WVCC) in Salem, an agency that serves 17 police, fire, and ambulance agencies in Polk and Marion Counties. WVCC, with 20 years experience and with economies of scale is able to offer very professional service and up-to-date technology, increasingly important for the safety of emergency providers and the citizens they serve.
LinCom, in contrast, is underfunded and understaffed, with outdated technology and equipment in danger of failing. Despite common belief, LinCom is not a county agency, but is an organization that is owned equally by the 12 police, fire, and ambulance agencies (users), including the county, with each member having one vote. Costs of operations were increasing much faster than user members’ tax revenues until 2008, when they could no longer afford ever-larger LinCom assessments. Even while revenues were increasing, LinCom could not staff up to recommended levels and had little funds for needed equipment and technology. When agency contributions shrank, these deficiencies became even greater.
As Polk County agencies came to understand, we, too, realize that we do not have the financial ability to provide the needed level of professional 9-1-1 and dispatch services our citizens need and deserve—short of asking you to vote for new taxes at a cost 2 to 3 times what you are now paying for 9-1-1 dispatching services! We, as your fire and emergency first responders, are not willing to impose that kind of added tax burden, especially in this economy, and also when WVCC is well able to provide continuing excellent service for about the same or less than we now pay to LinCom.
This decision is being carefully and thoughtfully considered, especially as we are very mindful of the hardship for LinCom’s employees and their families. However, if the decision is made to move, WVCC will be offering jobs to all our employees, honoring their benefit levels and seniority, although some may not be able to take advantage of this generous offer. Losing public jobs, like the county’s laying off more than 30 a couple years ago and the school district’s seemingly yearly cuts with each year’s shrinking state budget, is always painful but inevitable given decreasing revenues and growing public demand for more efficient ways of providing needed services.
We stand with our law enforcement user members in advocating the continued process of merging our 9-1-1 and dispatch services into those of WVCC, just as many years ago we merged our individual services by forming LinCom—and in line with the state of Oregon’s intention to reduce the number of dispatch centers from 49 to about 9 to better serve citizens with limited dollars available.
Joshua L. Williams
Depoe Bay Fire District
Newport Fire Department
Central Oregon Coast Fire (Waldport area)
Seal Rock Fire District
Siletz Fire District
Editor’s Note: A name missing from the list at the bottom of the letter is Yachats Fire Chief Frankie Petrick. Chief Petrick told News Lincoln County that she would like to see more public outreach on the issue so more residents of the county could weigh in on the debate. She said she favors a dispatch system closer to home, adding that if a disaster hit both the valley and the coast, she wonders whether the coast would get the same level of service as the valley. She also said she would like to further explore creating a special county-wide taxing district to support LinCom 9-1-1 and to make sure all the details are clearly presented to the public.
In the fire chief’s position paper, her fellow chief’s said they are opposed to such a taxing district in that it would mean asking for more money to achieve a level of service that could never compare to the services offered by WVCC for the same or less money being spent today. As for the level of service in a double-whammy coast-and-valley disaster, such as a big earthquake, fire and police officials say most, if not all 9-1-1 services would be knocked off the air anyway. They say police, fire and ambulance communications would be strictly local through the use of hilltop mobile repeaters and ham radio operators helping to keep everyone in touch with emergency services.
As for disasters of a lower magnitude striking both the valley and coast at the same time, WVCC officials told News Lincoln County that they have a large pool of dispatchers that can be called in on a moment’s notice to handle substantially higher call volumes, thereby guaranteeing consistent levels of service to all areas.
At the moment, WVCC officials are still formulating a contract for services which they continue to claim would be at the same cost level, or even lower, than what LinCom is costing its member agencies today. WVCC says they will offer all LinCom employees a job, but of course that entails moving to the Salem area, something not all LinCom workers are able to do. WVCC is also tabulating retirement costs, vacation pay, sick leave and transitional expenses that are part of the 9-1-1 switch.
The LinCom Board of Directors, which is made up of member agencies (it is not an arm of county government), are expecting something close to an iron-clad proposal from WVCC within thirty days. They say if they decide to contract with WVCC, they would like to make it official the first of July.
The proposal does not include Lincoln City or Toledo. Both have their own 9-1-1 dispatch centers. However, Lincoln City has been very interested in unloading the huge costs of their 9-1-1 services but have been waiting for something worthwhile to sign up for. Lincoln City already contracts with WVCC to run their police car and fire engine computer dispatch systems while retaining “live” dispatch announcing from Lincoln City. As police and fire personnel read their computer screens, they hear the same information being given over the radio. The same situation exists in Toledo for their police and fire services; computer aided dispatch through WVCC but “live” local dispatchers. Meanwhile, Toledo has steadfastly declined to participate in a county-wide dispatch service arrangement. City Manager Michelle Amberg told News Lincoln County that they prefer to have their own dispatchers that are in the police station 24/7 so that when people need help, and they don’t have a phone or other means to communicate, they can always run down to the police department and receive assistance immediately. Additionally, Toledo 9-1-1 dispatchers provide other support services for both their police and fire departments.
In the broader scope of things, local 9-1-1 services are partially funded with state revenues that are collected from everyone’s telephone bill, both landline and cellphone, revenues that may not be available to local 9-1-1 dispatch centers in the near future. Top state emergency services officials say Oregon’s 49 individual 9-1-1 centers are a costly duplication of services, whose operations are often not as good as they could be under a better funded consolidated system. Based on that viewpoint, they are proposing to create 9 regional 9-1-1 service centers to handle all emergency calls within Oregon. They point to the Oregon State Police dispatch system that handles the entire state with just two dispatch centers; one in Salem, the other in Medford.
LinCom’s Board of Directors say they plan to conduct public meetings to explain all this in hopefully simple terms that everyone can grasp. They intend to discuss advances in technology and its applications for tracking police cars, fire trucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles that is “up-to-the second” using satellites. Each police car, fire truck and ambulance will have highly detailed satellite images of their county pre-loaded into their vehicle computers, so knowing the lay of the land will also be very clear to emergency responders, which adds to what they already know by having lived in their communities a long time anyway.
The public meetings on all this are going to be worth attending. As soon as they are scheduled, you’ll see the information here on News Lincoln County.
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