By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – After years of planning and months of construction the move-in date will be next month for the new county jail with the exception of the E-911 dispatch center. Supervisors agreed to delay switching the 911 center from the Water Valley Police Department to the new jail until the end of September because of an existing contract with the City of Water Valley.
The matter surfaced at a recessed meeting on May 20 when Board President Tommy Vaughn explained that the new dispatch equipment would be ready, but the contract with the City of Water Valley will not expire until October. Vaughn was referring to the annual contract the county signs with the city to answer all of the 911 emergency phone calls in the county. The contract has been renewed annually for approximately 15 years.
“We were under the assumption that as soon as we get all of equipment in for 911 at the jail, we would take over the service after giving them (city) a 60-day notice,” Vaughn explained at last week’s meeting. “But the contract said 60 days prior to the end of their fiscal year. I would have expected the city to let us go on and transfer over because we have state-of-the-art equipment versus outdated equipment up there,” he added. “But that is their call.”
Vaughn also said the amount owed for the remaining three months in the contract is $27,500, money the county is obligated to pay the city even if the county moves the dispatch center to the new location. Vaughn explained the move hinges on the $27,500, because the county would use the money previously earmarked for the city to hire additional dispatchers to answer the 911 calls at the new jail.
“We will have a faster response time for the ambulance. But that is their call, we have a solid contract,” Vaughn added. He also said county officials had been led to believe the change could be made as soon as the county had the equipment ready.
“We have been told from different parties, not the mayor, that we would switch when we got the equipment installed. But I’m sure they need that money to operate on too,” he added.
Vaughn did not recommend an action, but polled the board to see if they wanted to go ahead and pay the city the remaining money in the contract and switch in June, or keep the 911 calls coming to the city for the remainder of the contract and start dispatching at the new jail at the end of September.
He reiterated that the county would be double-paying if they exited the contract, paying the city and hiring the extra dispatchers needed to handle the 911 calls.
“As long as the city understands that as soon as it is feasibly possible, we wish to switch it over. If they are not willing to allow us to do that and not pay them, to me that is their decision,” District 3 Supervisor Lee McMinn said.
But McMinn explained that he wanted the constituents served by both city officials and county officials to understand that the switch will not be made because of the county’s contractual obligations.
“ And they are not willing to release us after 15 years, if they feel like they can’t because of budgetary constraints, then so be it. I don’t see that we have a choice,” McMinn said, as the consensus was to delay dispatching with the updated equipment at the new jail until the end of September.
“I want to keep a good working relationship with the city,” Vaughn added.
“When we had that contract done, we didn’t have the jail in the picture. Things have changed in 15 years,” District 5 Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman added.
Next the conversation turned to the legal steps that need to be taken to switch the 911 system over at the end of September.
Board Attorney John Crow advised that a letter needs to be sent to the city providing notification of the switchover.
“You need to set a day that you want to switch,” Crow said, noting that the contract doesn’t actually end until October 17.
“Larry (Hart) has said we can switch it over on the Sept. 28,” Vaughn said.
“We probably need to send another letter saying that is the date,” Crow advised
Supervisors also authorized Sheriff Lance Humphreys to hire the dispatchers at the first of September to give him time to train them before the switchover.
“If they start at the first of September, surely they can get their training done in a month’s time,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn also took time to reflect on the jail project.
“It’s been a long process. Everybody knows how hard this board has worked for years to try and get it done with minimal expense. We have been in front of a curve here lately. We are going to make it and make this affordable as we possibly can. I want to take this time to thank Frank Hyde and the sheriff. They have come up above and beyond the call of duty helping out with things that are not on their contract. When problems arose up there, and we had to have work done immediately with people that had that type of expertise they were there. I appreciate it and I know the board does,” Vaughn said.
How The System Works
Currently all of the 911 emergency phone calls in the county are answered at the Water Valley Police Department. The county pays the city approximately $110,000 annually for the service. When the city dispatcher answers the call, it is directed to the appropriate emergency responder. Emer-gency calls that require a response from the Water Valley police or fire department are dispatched directly. Calls that require response from a county fire department, the sheriff’s department, the ambulance service and city police response from Oakland or Coffeeville are rolled over to the old jail in Water Valley where the appropriate re-sponding entity is dispatched by a sheriff’s department dispatcher.
That agreement has been in effect for 15 years with one exception. Prior to 2013, emergency medical calls were rolled over directly to the hospital, which then dispatched an ambulance. In 2012, Yalobusha General Hospital Administrator Terry Varner and Humphreys worked a deal to use the sheriff’s department to dispatch medical calls.
Prior to that change, medical calls were rolled over from the City of Water Valley’s dispatch center to the hospital. During daytime the 911 call would then be answered at the front switchboard at the hospital. However, during nights and weekends, medical calls went directly to the nurse’s station. Varner told supervisors that system was problematic, as it stretched the nurses and was unsafe for citizens.
In the agreement, the hospital agreed to transfer $55,000 to the sheriff’s department to hire more dispatchers to handle the increased calls. That money came from the $192,000 allocated annually from the county to the hospital to fund the ambulance service. The money was used to hire an additional full-time dispatcher and two-part-time dispatchers, which are used during peak times.
New Equipment, New Operation
Early in the planning phases of operating a larger jail, supervisors realized that moving the 911 dispatch center from the city to the new jail would improve emergency response across the county and cut down on the number of new positions needed to operate the larger county jail. The money paid to the City of Water Valley will be redirected to the sheriff’s budget to hire additional dispatchers to handle the 911 emergency calls. When implemented, two dispatchers will be on duty at all times. Similar to jail operations in other counties, the dispatchers will have overlapping duties. They will monitor the inmates using video surveillance and trigger the electronic door locks across the facility as prisoners are booked, visitors enter the facility, or inmates leave and re-enter their cells as part of their daily routine.
The county has also purchased a new 911 PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) to outfit the dispatch center at the new jail. The new piece of equipment cost almost $200,000 and will replace an aging predecessor located at the Water Valley Police Department that was previously purchased by the county. The county’s EMA Director, Frank Hyde, has described the equipment as obsolete. Hyde also explained the new system will enhance service in the county, specifically with 911 calls generated from cell phones. The upgrade will allow the actual GPS coordinates from the caller to show up on a map, giving emergency officials the exact location of the caller. Hyde estimated that 80 percent of emergency calls come from cells phones.
“We have a lot of rural areas where people get out and don’t know where they are. This will even help us on the interstate,” Hyde told supervisors at an earlier meeting.
Hyde also explained that moving the dispatch center to the jail will stop all of the transferred calls.
“The first operator who picks up the phone will be the one doing everything,” the EMA director added, referring to answering the phone call and dispatching the appropriate emergency responder as soon as the call is completed.