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Consolidation of 9-1-1 services gains steam

Plans are moving forward to bring two 9-1-1 answering-and-dispatching centers that serve Jackson County under one roof by March.

Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen told the Medford City Council on Thursday that his department will ask the council to accept a $700,000 federal grant approved as an earmark in an Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 — then authorize spending $240,000 to upgrade radio systems and software used in the dispatch center so that all agencies in the center use the same equipment.

The request likely will come before the council at its next regular meeting.

The city and Jackson County, which operates Southern Oregon Regional Communications, are working out the details of a lease agreement that will enable the city-operated Rogue Valley Consolidated Communications to sublease space in the 15,000-square-foot emergency call center the county is building near the intersection of Table Rock and Biddle roads.

SORC expects to move into the $7.2 million building in mid-November. Officials said the building was designed to provide enough space for both communication centers.

"Colocation is a stepping stone to consolidation," Schoen said.

He explained that all emergency responders in the county support consolidation into a single center. The idea faltered in the early years of this decade, but finally gained traction in the past few years.

Full consolidation will take time, but Schoen said it should be accomplished by June 2011, when the current biennium ends. He said he would like to see it done by the end of June 2010, when dispatchers' contract is up for renegotiation, but that might not be possible.

Labor and technical issues still need to be worked out for a consolidated center, he explained.

Studies by outside consultants found that consolidation likely would save about $300,000 annually, with another roughly $100,000 in savings coming later when computer-aided dispatch systems are linked, Schoen said.

In addition to the savings, responders believe it will improve service and safety for residents and help keep emergency crews safe, too.

"We are obligated to find the most efficient and cost-effective way to provide service," Schoen said.

Medford police hired a consultant to study whether the city would face additional costs from the collocation or eventual consolidation. The study concluded other city departments would have to absorb about $60,000 in costs for human resources, technical and financial services that had been paid for under the dispatch center's budget. The departure of the dispatch center from City Hall wouldn't change the need for such services, which are utilized by all departments.

Finance Director Alison Chan said that amount is too small to worry about in the city's multi-million dollar budget. The city's general fund budget for the 2009-11 biennium totals $97.8 million.