COLUMBUS — The city and county are inching closer to finalizing a plan that would consolidate their 911 dispatch services.
The proposal, which has been in the works for years, took a step forward this week when Columbus City Council approved interlocal agreements that cover an equipment upgrade and a study that will look at potential locations and estimated costs for a shared dispatch facility.
Under the agreements, which are expected to be voted on Tuesday by the Platte County Board of Supervisors, the city would pay $347,824 and the county is responsible for $437,779 to buy a new Motorola radio console system for dispatchers plus 10 years of maintenance and support from the company.
The $785,603 upgrade is needed because Motorola won’t support the current dispatch system past Dec. 31.
Columbus Police Capt. Todd Thalken told the council the city could have gotten by with a cheaper system since local officers patrol a relatively small area, making radio communication easier.
However, the sheriff’s office’s coverage area is much larger and the Motorola system is needed since the county is joining the statewide radio system. That’s why the county pays a higher percentage of the total cost in the interlocal agreement.
Thalken said the new equipment is needed regardless of whether the city and county consolidate their 911 dispatch services.
“If we don’t consolidate, we’ll just separate the equipment between the two agencies,” he said.
A $127,500 study also included in the interlocal agreements would help city and county officials determine how the proposed merger proceeds.
The study, which would be conducted by Columbus-based RVW Inc. with the cost split evenly between the city and county, would look at several potential locations for the shared dispatch facility and provide estimated price tags for each option.
Councilman Charlie Bahr, a member of the E911 Technical Committee that has been moving this proposal forward, said the consolidated dispatch center could be a standalone facility or part of the new public safety building the city has planned.
Bahr said multiple locations will be considered, including an old Federal Aviation Administration building at Columbus Municipal Airport and property just outside the city limits that could provide some cost savings since it sits at a higher elevation, which makes antenna installation cheaper.
The city has not selected a site for the proposed public safety building, which would likely house both the police and fire departments, but officials hope to have a plan in place early enough for a May bond vote.
Currently, local 911 calls are answered by employees inside the police department who dispatch city officers, ambulances and firetrucks throughout the county. Calls for county deputies and Humphrey Police Department are routed to a second dispatch center at the sheriff’s office.
A study presented in late 2012 by Minnesota-based GeoComm Inc. recommended establishing a 911 dispatch center that serves all of Platte County and is operated independently from the sheriff’s office or police department.