Almost 20 years after the creation of the county-wide 9-1-1 emergency system, a fragmented network of dispatchers in different locations could be moving toward one county-wide dispatching system, under one roof.
In a special meeting, held Wednesday, the Jasper County Emergency Services Board agreed to consider restructuring the emergency dispatching system based on a proposal by Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts to create one dispatching center, funded by the 9-1-1 sales tax, managed by a board consisting of the Sheriff, police chiefs and fire chiefs and operated under contract by the city of Joplin.
The consolidated dispatchers would be located at the current rural location near the Cedar Road interchange south of Carthage on I-49, with the communications center at the Joplin Police Department acting as a redundant backup that could be activated if the center south of Carthage were ever knocked out of commission.
Roberts told the board consolidation would likely save hundreds of thousands of dollars for both the city and the board, but that’s not the main reason he proposed it.
“The intent is to enhance public safety,” Roberts said. “Right now, when you have fragmented communications systems, there are built-in delays in calls. There are built in miscommunications because calls frequently have to be relayed from one officer on a radio to another officer because the officers can’t communicate on the same system.”
Currently, Joplin Fire Department and Police Department are controlled by dispatchers operating from a center in the basement of the Donald Clark Public Safety Center at 303 E. Third Street in Joplin.
All other Jasper County fire departments, including Carthage, as well as the METS ambulances in Joplin, the Mercy Carthage Ambulances and police departments in Sarcoxie, Jasper, Oronogo and Alba, Purcell and Neck City police officers are dispatched from the JASCO 9-1-1 center south of Carthage.
The Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, Carthage Police Department, Webb City Police Department and Carl Junction Police Department each have their own dispatchers, and 9-1-1 calls made within the county from those cities come first to the 9-1-1 center, then are transferred to those departments, creating a delay that Roberts said he hopes to eliminate.
Roberts’ plan envisions the Jasper County board contracting with the city of Joplin for dispatching services. The director of the dispatch center would still be an employee of the Jasper County board, but the dispatchers and many other supervisors would become employees of the city of Joplin, with the board paying Joplin a fee.
The existing board would control the budget.
A seven-member “Executive Committee, chaired by the Jasper County Sheriff, would manage operation of the center. The police and fire chiefs of Joplin and Carthage would have permanent seats on the committee with the other two, one for a fire department and one for a police department, filled on a rotating basis.
Page 2 of 2 - A third “Users Group” committee would be formed comprising of all the users of the dispatch service and acting as an advisory committee to the executive committee.
Roberts said Joplin and Jasper County combined spend approximately $4 million a year to operate two centers. Of those costs, about $2.5 million are personnel and $1.5 million are for operations.
He said consolidating to one center might save as much as $500,000 or more in operations expenses.
Neither Roberts nor the Emergency Services Board envisioned reducing the number of dispatchers, but if that number should be reduced in the future, it can be reduced by not replacing dispatchers as they move on or retire.
The Jasper County Emergency Services Board agreed on Wednesday to create a committee to negotiate with Joplin and authorized an attorney to represent it and negotiate with the city over the final details.
Roberts said he plans to approach the Joplin City Council with his plan as soon as feasible.
He said if all parties agree to compromise on some details, a consolidated dispatching center in Jasper County is feasible in the next eight to 12 months.