Should dispatching services be contracted to another county?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Now that Red Willow County plans to stop outsourcing prisoners to adjoining counties -- provided budgetary snags created by Hillcrest Nursing Home problems don't delay the jail project -- there is talk of outsourcing dispatching services.

Actually, the county has already been outsourcing dispatching services for quite some time, to the City of McCook. With talk that the city might boost the fee to $60,000, the Red Willow County Commissioners are seriously considering the idea of paying Frontier County considerably less to dispatch deputies to emergency calls.

There don't seem to be any technical reasons it couldn't be done. We've heard scanner traffic between officers in the far reaches of Red Willow County and the Frontier County dispatch center, and they seem to be able to communicate well.

Communications is in a flux in Nebraska; a $17.3 million statewide emergency radio network officially went into operation in 2010, but the state didn't make it mandatory for all local agencies to reprogram their radios to use it, an expensive and sometimes difficult process.

Created with homeland security funding in response to communications difficulties exposed by the 9/11 attacks, the system is still far from up to speed, as the major grassfires in north central Nebraska last month revealed.

Like first responders at ground zero, the 100-plus volunteer fire departments who responded to the fires found themselves unable to communicate with everyone involved, forced to patch communications through dispatch centers or even driving miles to talk face-to-face with other responders.

Red Willow County has purchased radio equipment it has not yet been able to deploy, but even without the state mandate, more than half of the local emergency responders have access to the statewide system.

By the end of the year, a federal mandate will require emergency radio systems to be upgraded to narrower radio frequencies.

It's easy to see why Frontier County would be interested in replacing with dispatching some of the income it has been receiving from Red Willow County to house prisoners, but we don't know if it is a good idea for our county.

But it is a good idea for Red Willow County, the City of McCook and all levels of government to think outside the box. We won't know what kind of efficiencies can be achieved unless we at least give new ideas serious consideration.

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