City of Maryville officials and members of the Nodaway County Commission gathered at the County Administration Center Wednesday for a discussion about the possibility of creating a shared 911 dispatch center.
An off-and-on issue since the late 1990s, the idea of combining the separate communications operations run by the Sheriff's Office and the municipal Department of Public Safety has gained renewed currency as the city considers building a new police/fire headquarters.
Though a certain amount of intergovernmental squabbling has apparently occurred over the years as to why earlier unified-911 efforts failed, the focus of Wednesday's meeting was on cooperation as elected officials and professional staff reviewed various pros and cons.
Maryville City Manager Greg McDanel urged both parties to "move forward and do something together" while admitting that creating a multi-agency communications facility is a project containing "a lot of nuances that need to be addressed."
As a first step, McDanel said he intends to review a pair of 911 studies done in 1997 and 2001 by communications consultant GeoComm. He also said he needed to examine documents produced by a locally organized 911 task force that revisited the issue in 2007.
The panel was made up of representatives from the county, city, Polk Township and Northwest Missouri State University, whose police department also maintains a dispatch center, one of three inside the city limits.
After getting up to speed on the issue McDanel said his next step will be to report to the Maryville City Council in order to provide members with the information they need to debate the matter and explore options.
At first glance, creating a central communications office for all of the county's law enforcement and first-responder agencies would appear to be a simple step toward reduced cost and increased efficiency. But, as Public Safety Director Keith Wood pointed out during Wednesday's discussion, working out the details is anything but a simple process. Money is the biggest hurdle, since a shared dispatch office would likely require more personnel.
Sheriff's deputies, ambulance crews and rural fire departments are currently dispatched from the county jail, where dispatchers also serve as jailers. If, as has been suggested, the dispatch center moves into the basement of the nearby County Administration Center, those jobs could no longer be combined, since jail prisoners can't be left unguarded.
While acknowledging perceptions that a shared dispatch would save money, Wood said the reality is different. He cited GeoComm's finding that a unified dispatch operation would "likely cost more tax dollars than are spent today."
Wood also asked if the County Administration Center space, conceived as a dispatch room when the building was constructed a few years ago, was designed with specialized electrical grounding and other technology-friendly infrastructure required by modern computers and communications gear. The commissioners responded that they didn't know but would try to find out.
Page 2 of 2 - Since some requests for police assistance are made in person and not by phone, Wood also wondered where citizens would go "after 5 o'clock," with the Administration Center presumably locked and no dispatchers on duty at Public Safety.
"I don't think there is anything that can't be resolved, but there are questions that have to be answered," said Wood, who added that a combined dispatch center could still pay off in terms of smoother communications if costs were kept "reasonably close to what we're spending now and if we're more efficient."
City Councilman Jim Fall, who also attended Wednesday's meeting, said his top priority with regard to shared 911 is achieving maximum police and fire protection for citizens.
"The main point for me is will it provide better service? If it doesn't provide better service then the conversation is moot." Fall said.