Richardson County forges ahead with regional 911 dispatching

FALLS CITY – Despite reluctance from Falls City officials, Richardson County commissioners contracted with a 911 dispatch service out of Beatrice Tuesday saying consolidation will improve service and lower costs.

Beatrice Police Chief Bruce Lang said he expects jurisdictions with a  jailer/dispatcher service to welcome consolidation, as well as counties that are required to add additional staff to provide at least two dispatchers 24/7.

Lang: “They are all doing this now because it simply does not make sense economically to try and go down this road alone. It’s a blessing that we live in nice, rural, safe areas, but when it comes to pay for some things, it makes it difficult when you don’t have a lot of people.”

Under the new contract, the county would pay $180,000 a year to the center. A new, $400,000 communications tower is proposed on vacant lots near the sheriff’s office.

Despite the upfront costs, Commissioner Rick Karas said  consolidation is the best direction for Richardson County.

Karas:  “If we stayed with the same way we were, we’d be looking at the $125,000 plus dispatching at $185,000, so it’d be $310,000 that way. But then, we’d have to upgrade our consoles, which would be $750,000 more on top of that. It doesn’t make sense to go that way.”

Falls City City Administrator Gary Jorn told commissioners that a representative of the Public Service Commission informed the city council Monday that Nebraska does not have a law making counties responsible for 911 service. He questioned the validity of the county’s contract.

Jorn: “The city has been responsible for 911 for years and provides that service, so my question is how does the commissioners enter into a contract to provide 911 service when the city is recognized as the (public safety answering point) PSAP for the county?”

Sheriff Rick Hardesty said the 911 center is ready to begin taking sheriff’s office calls.

Hardesty: “Nobody is losing their jobs. We still have to have people to run jail doors and do VIN inspections and do handgun permits, but it’s happening whether we like it or we don’t like it. How do we in good faith keep throwing good money after bad of taxpayer dollars.”

Currently served by Southeast Communications 911 are Gage County Sheriff’s Office, City of Wymore, Homestead National Monument, City of Crete, City of Beatrice and 17 different fire departments.
Karas said he hopes Falls City will also join.

Karas: “We want Falls City involved with this because it will save them money and the cost of upgrading stuff all the time just keeps getting higher. I feel the longer we wait, it’s going to be a lot more money. All these other counties are doing it now. They are starting to do the same thing.”

Lang told commissioners the state Public Service Commission will have final say on whether the city or county receive fees charged to phone customers for 911 service.