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9-1-1 dispatch consolidation gains new interest

City and county officials have renewed talk of consolidating the county's two 9-1-1 centers in a bid to save government funds and promote efficiency.

The Medford City Council Thursday authorized an agreement with Southern Oregon Regional Communications (SORC) to consider combining their emergency call-taking and dispatching operations. The move came almost five years after consolidation plans broke down amid disagreements over which agencies would wield the most influence. Subsequent changes in leadership have since fostered cooperation, officials said.

"Now we're trying to look beyond our own needs and look at regional needs," said Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen. "I think we can come up with an equitable solution that will be acceptable to everyone involved."

Governing a consolidated body is still likely to be an issue, Schoen said. The city in 2002 insisted on a weighted vote if it were to consolidate with SORC, which operates under the authority of an intergovernmental council that gives all of its 26 members — regardless of size — an equal vote.

SORC dispatches for the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, county fire districts and most small, local police departments. Operating under the name Rogue Valley Consolidated Communications (RVCCOM), the city dispatches for its police and fire departments, Ashland police and fire departments, the Medford airport's fire department and Southern Oregon University's security personnel.

No timeline has been established for consolidation, and committee members have conducted no cost comparisons. But efficiencies are apparent to Schoen and others.

"It just needed to happen," said Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters. "If we have a major emergency, everyone's located in the same room."

Neither agency's building, however, is large enough to accommodate both, Schoen said, so that presents another challenge.

RVCCOM and SORC already have worked together to install a new 180-foot-high wireless communication tower on Roxy Ann Peak, Schoen said. Yet construction on that project took place in violation of the city's competitive bidding process.

Housing the two call-taking centers together is a viable option even if consolidation doesn't pan out, said City Councilman Bob Strosser.

"Co-locating is an excellent first step if we can achieve it," Strosser said.

Oregon State Police and Oregon Department of Transportation will be offered quarters with RVCCOM and SORC, but consolidating with those state agencies is not likely, Winters said.

RVCCOM's operating budget for the coming fiscal year is $2.2 million. SORC is to approve a $2.3 million operating budget later this month. Both agencies receive almost $500,000 in state funds per year.

In addition to city, county and SORC officials, the consolidation committee includes Central Point, Eagle Point and Talent police officials.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.