Medford officials are pushing forward with plans to consolidate 9-1-1 operations with Jackson County by early next year to end confusion over the routing of emergency calls and to improve response times.

Medford officials are pushing forward with plans to consolidate 9-1-1 operations with Jackson County by early next year to end confusion over the routing of emergency calls and to improve response times.

"We're going to co-locate," said Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen. "There is no doubt in my mind."

Schoen told Medford City Council members Thursday he will need to spend about $250,000 for communication equipment as part of a move to the new dispatch center, now under construction at the Medford airport.

Currently, Medford operates a dispatch center out of the Lausmann Annex next to City Hall, while most other emergency service agencies use the Southern Oregon Regional Communications facility in the Jackson County Courthouse building. Consolidating the dispatch centers has been a source of friction between the county and city for years, but recently the mood has changed.

"After watching this thing for a decade, you don't know how nice it feels to see this level of cooperation in existence at this time," said Councilman Bob Strosser.

While Schoen said the city has in principle decided to go forward with the consolidation, it hasn't completely signed off on the idea. City officials want more information about the cost and benefits of consolidation as well as to resolve questions over the length of the lease with the county.

Despite those lingering concerns, Schoen said the benefits of improving emergency response leave him convinced the city will go forward with the plan.

Schoen said the county and city have developed a close relationship in discussing the joint operations.

"We've been at the table every step of the way," he said. "They've been doing a lot of things that benefit our organization."

Schoen told council members Thursday that because of delays in getting a $700,000 federal grant, he may need to tap into a city account to purchase communication equipment for the new 9-1-1 dispatch center. Once the grant comes through, the equipment account would be reimbursed.

Some council members worried what would happen if the grant money didn't come through, but Schoen said, "We're very confident it is a guaranteed thing."

With two different dispatch centers in the county, 9-1-1 calls in Medford are sometimes first directed to the SORC dispatch center, which in turn has to transfer the call to Medford's dispatch center. In 2008, Medford officers responded to more than 49,000 9-1-1 calls.

In November, the county used its capital improvement fund to begin work on the 15,000-square-foot emergency call center near the intersection of Table Rock and Biddle roads. The total budget for the project, including design, planning, equipment, landscaping, moving and a separate communications tower is $7.2 million. County officials designed the new dispatch center with enough room to accommodate Medford.

The center will replace the dispatch office run by SORC at the top of the old courthouse at 10 S. Oakdale Ave. Seismic studies of the building revealed it would not survive a strong earthquake, which could cut off communication between law enforcement and residents.

Schoen said SORC plans to move into the new building in October, and he anticipates the city will move in January or February.

He said the $700,000 federal grant will be used to buy $450,000 in equipment upgrades for the new dispatch center and $250,000 to help with the move.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.