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Funding, routing of emergency calls questioned

 


Sidney's City Council is searching for some consistency, perhaps.

At Tuesday night's meeting, the body discussed concerns over uniformity between law enforcement agences and funding issues regarding the Cheyenne County Emergency Communications Center.

Sidney mayor Wendall Gaston wondered how percentages for communications center funding from the county and city were decided.

"When the system was put together, the volume of calls, because this also affects our utility departments and public transportation system, it was 65 percent city and 35 percent county, so that's how they structured the agreement of how financial support would be there initially," said Sidney city manager Gary Person.

The mayor voiced confusion as to why the Sheriff's Office answers its own administrative calls during the day, while all calls to Sidney police are funneled through the center.

"This was kind of set up for everybody to use," Gaston said.

The communications center answers for the Sheriff's Office from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. during the week and all the time on the weekend. The communications center handles all 911 calls at all times, explained Tim Rice, interim director of the center.

"It seems to me that we put the call center together so all the calls would be funneled through you guys," Gaston said.

Which entity receives the call depends on where the incident in question occurred.

"If it's in the city limits, then it would go to the Police Department," Rice said. "If it's outside the city limits, it goes to the Sheriff's Office."

Allowing the Sheriff's staff to answer non emergency calls during the day could skew the numbers of how many people in the county are calling for help, Gaston added.

"I think the system has really worked well for 20 years," Gaston said. "I think having one agency say, well we're gonna do our own thing kind of defeats the purpose of why we're really doing this."

The way the center's funding works has dramatically changed since its start. In the beginning, there was a surcharge for landlines which would give the center a stable funding source. Then when cell phones became popular, this source of funding dropped off.

Gaston suggested they look into how this agreement is set up and how it's paid for and maybe consider a revision.

"I think it's a great service. I'm not criticizing the service, I'm just interested in the process," Gaston said.

The communications center routes calls for Sidney police, the Cheyenne County Sheriff's Office, ambulance and fire response in additions to other area entities.

"Part of it is safety issues too," Person said. "So they always know when there's an urgent call then somebody's got your back at the communication center that can dispatch more people there when they've got trouble. So that's the whole purpose."

A few councilmen voiced concern and interest about this process.

"It sounds like there's heartburn with this thing," councilman Mark Nienhueser said.

Person suggested discussing any issues at the next communications center board meeting.

The center received 36,074 calls last year, of which around 3,000 were 911 calls, according to Rice. Cell phone calls made up 86 percent of all calls. A major expense at the center this year was an upgrade of the 911 system, which cost around $60,000. The center is planning for some new equipment in next year's budget.

"One of the main things we're talking about doing now is replacing our radio system," Rice said. "It's 20 years old. It was purchased when the communications center was first formed."

 

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