By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Several Havre City Council members are calling for the city and Hill County to sit down together with a mediator and work out an agreement to consolidate enhanced-911 dispatching.
Last month, City Council members voted to allow the city to submit a plan to the state creating a separate e-911 jurisdiction for Havre. But several council members said today they don't believe there should be two dispatching services in Hill County.
In 2002, a joint city-county 911 board voted to locate the primary e-911 call center at the city. In January, the board, citing cost to the taxpayers, reversed its decision and named the Hill County Detention Center as the primary location.
E-911 shows dispatchers the phone number and location of the caller, speeding response time.
Council member Allen "Woody" Woodwick said today he approved the submission of a plan so the state could compare the city's plan with the county's plan, but does not believe Hill County needs two e-911 dispatch centers.
"I think the most important thing is to have one 911 center and quit bickering," Woodwick said. "Whether it be at the city or the county, I could live with either one."
He said having two separate e-911 services could create confusion and would be a waste of money.
"I think there's just a potential for confusion with two different systems," Woodwick said. "I don't want any confusion. I think it'd be a lot more streamlined with all the calls coming to one place.
"Paying for two systems where one would suffice is not using your money very wisely," he said. "We would need a backup system, but I just think it's got to be cheaper to run one instead of two."
Woodwick said he has been approached by a few dozen city residents about the issue, and the majority want the center to be located at the county detention center.
"Virtually everybody I've talked to wants to see it at the county," he said. "That was part of the deal when the voters voted to build that facility."
Woodwick said the time has come for the city and the county to sit down with a mediator.
"We have to agree to binding mediation. Even if we don't agree with (the decision), we need to abide by it and move on to more important issues that are facing our community," he said.
Council member Terry Schend said he voted for the city to submit its own plan so the state could review it and see if mediation is necessary. He said Hill County needs only one e-911 dispatching service.
"I don't think the city and the county need to have separate dispatching," he said. "I think they need to have one that is answerable to both the city and the county. If they want to look at some cost savings, that's really the way it should be going."
Schend said it is time to find a solution.
"I think it's time those ratepayers get the service they've been paying for," he said. "We don't need to wait two years for something else to happen."
Council member Emily Mayer Lossing said the two sides need to sit down with a mediator.
"I believe this issue needs to go to mediation," she said.
Council member Pam Hillery also said Hill County needs one dispatch center, not two.
"I think there should be one," she said. "For a jurisdiction this small in terms of population, it only makes sense to have one. The people who have volunteered their opinions to me have said they want it to be in one place."
Hillery also said it is time to get a mediator involved.
"I think at this point we really need to allow binding mediation," she said. "We can't seem to come to a mutual agreement."
Hillery said she voted to allow the city to submit its own plan but didn't think that vote was a final approval of the plan. Council members were put in an "awkward position," she said, because they were hearing conflicting information from Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel and Hill County Commissioner Mike Anderson.
"We said you could submit a plan, we didn't say we would approve the separate facilities," she said. "I just hope that we can find a resolution that serves the taxpayers on safety issues and on money issues."
The Hill County commissioners will meet Thursday at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the possibility of mediation and consider the city's request to divide the e-911 funds.
"We are going to discuss what was in the content of the letter from the mayor and whether we want to pursue the mediation, negotiation" option, Commissioner Doug Kaercher said.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice last week proposed dividing $300,000 from the $322,000 joint city-county e-911 fund between the city and county to start with, and then splitting future funding by the number of phone lines in each jurisdiction. The remaining $22,000 would remain in a joint account to pay for immediate costs resulting from the current 911 system.
E-911 funds accumulate from a 50-cent tax on each phone line. According to Rice's proposal, after the initial split the city would collect the funds from 6,575 city lines and the county from 2,559 county lines.
The Hill County commissioners contacted the Montana Consensus Council several weeks ago while considering the possibility of mediation.
Rice has said he would be open to the possibility of negotiation.
Kaercher said the initial response from the Helena-based council was positive, though the council would charge a fee for its service.
Havre Daily News reporter Ellen Thompson contributed to this story.