Talks continued Wednesday among Lincom officials on the future of 9-1-1 dispatch services for all of Lincoln County except for Toledo and Lincoln City. They have their own 9-1-1 systems. Lincom’s user group and executive board have been grappling with budget problems which include major expenses for replacing equipment and acquiring long-overdue high-tech upgrades. None of it is cheap which adds to the challenge. It is also why Lincom officials have been talking with Willamette Valley Communications Center (WVCC) based in Salem. WVCC dispatches for 17 police, fire and medical agencies in Marion and Polk Counties and could easily add Lincoln County to their operations, according to a WVCC spokesman.
A major advantage of contracting with WVCC is that Lincom dispatched agencies would not need to replace expensive dispatch equipment at the 9-1-1 center. They would additionally benefit from the latest state of the art technologies used to pinpoint emergencies, closest police cars, fire equipment and ambulances. And although it’s been said that “out of town” dispatchers don’t know the local communities like local dispatchers do, that is more than compensated for in GPS and other electronic location-finding technologies. Esoteric or specialized locator information can be assigned, by computer to different addresses, including histories of events/emergencies, and other critical data for a location.
However, others complain that it’s not right that Lincoln County taxpayer dollars would be sent to Salem instead of being spent in the community. Others add that despite the pin-point accurate data assigned to specific locations, a locally based dispatcher is hard to beat for solid information on a location or person in distress. They say well experienced local dispatchers can visualize what a caller to 9-1-1 is trying to describe in terms of location or terrain.
However, others who have worked with state of the art dispatch centers say while all that sounds compelling, high-tech computer systems trump the old way of doing things. They say dispatchers, who use the latest, up-to-date systems, talk to local law enforcement, local fire departments and local ambulance crews who already know the lay of the land. But even they are routinely further assisted by dispatchers who have a lot more information at their finger tips than just a street address.
As the debate continues, a possible turning-point meeting is coming up among Lincom user agencies on December 12th at the Lincoln County Commission chambers in Newport. At the meeting, a representative from Willamette Valley Communications Center will be on hand to answer questions about a possible transfer of 9-1-1 services to Salem, with WVCC’s dispatch center being hooked up to Lincoln County’s mountain-top radio repeaters. The WVCC representative will also have a better estimate on costs for taking over dispatch duties. Lincom’s current budget runs a bit over $100,000 a month and preliminary estimates seem to suggest that WVCC would be at that level or slightly under. But again, the “wild card’ is that Lincom needs expensive new equipment and other upgrades, that the user group contends they can’t afford. If they went with WVCC, they could dodge that expense entirely.
Another factor is trying to get Toledo and Lincoln City to join in. Lincoln City has long talked about hooking into a consolidated, county-wide dispatch system, but the city also wants a better back up system in case the 9-1-1 center goes down. They want to be able to retain some residual “local” 9-1-1 capacity which they lost a few years ago during a terrible ice storm that crippled the town for days. Meanwhile, Toledo appears to remain uninterested in giving up their own 9-1-1 system which they contend works just fine.
However, another possible scenario is that all Lincoln County emergency services agencies would propose a special county-wide 9-1-1 dispatch district paid for with an an increase in property taxes. They say the choice would be to either pay higher taxes for a dramatically upgraded Lincom 9-1-1 district, or pay no additional taxes by going with an already state-of-the-art WVCC.
The WVCC meeting with local agencies is set for December 12th, 2-5pm in the County Commission Chambers at the Lincoln County Courthouse at Nye and West Olive.