Law enforcement and fire agencies in Benton and Franklin counties are going to see if they can come up with a plan for consolidating emergency dispatch centers.
Representatives from the counties, cities and fire districts met Wednesday to determine the next steps after a consultant's study laid out a basic structure and preliminary cost estimates for consolidation.
With the proposed Multi-Agency Three Rivers Information and Communications Services, or MATRICS, the two current dispatch centers would operate as a single system, although dispatchers would work from two facilities.
Right now, Franklin County dispatch, SECOMM, also known as Southeast Communications Center, and BIPIN, known as the Bicounty Police Information Network, provide communications and records management for public safety services in the two counties and the cities.
Although the three systems use the same software provider, they lack "interoperability," according to eGov Consulting's analysis.
Kennewick City Manager Marie Mosley said the jurisdictions should develop a detailed plan for a transition that includes costs before trying to approve an interlocal agreement.
With that and the results from a possible state-paid 911 study, officials can sit down and decide if it makes sense to move forward with consolidation, she said.
Franklin County Communications Director Ed Bush said he has been told the state will pay up to $100,000 for a study of consolidated 911 service, but the availability of those dollars will depend on the supplemental budget the state Legislature passes in the upcoming special session.
Having that study could help the agencies receive state funding to pay for some of the consolidation costs, he said. The counties should know around Christmas if the money is available.
It also would answer some of the questions on merging 911 specifically, said Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim. But it wouldn't be a repeat of e-Gov Consulting's analysis.
Before coming up with a detailed plan, Richland City Manager Cindy Johnson suggested the various jurisdictions and agencies take a simple resolution to their boards outlining goals and a desire to explore options without committing to anything.
The goals suggested in the eGov study included improving the delivery of emergency services in the region by streamlining systems and making them interoperable, providing backup within the system and reducing ongoing upgrade and maintenance costs.
The proposed cost to Franklin County agencies is a major hurdle for consolidation, Lathim said. Every agency in Franklin County would see higher costs under eGov's proposal.
The county can hardly balance the budget with today's costs, he said. The estimates provided by eGov show Franklin County paying about $33,000 more for service, or about $288,000.
"Are we going to be able to afford to do this?" he said.
Stephen Gousie with eGov Consulting of Fairview, Texas, said eGov created a formula for equitable costs, but the agencies will need to determine adjustments and define calls for service, which were used to create cost estimates for some of the services.
Richland Fire Chief Grant Baynes said the goal is to address cost concerns they all have. That's why reducing maintenance and upgrade costs are goals in the proposal.
And there may be more cost savings that the eGov study did not identify, said Ernest Pages with eGov Consulting.
The expense is a challenge, but West Richland Mayor Donna Noski said she is more concerned what the costs will be in five to 10 years if the consolidation doesn't happen.
Noski said she likes the concept of MATRICS. West Richland wouldn't be on the executive board as a small agency, but she said the city's experience with SECOMM is that the board listens, regardless of the size of the agency.
Connell police Chief Michael Kessler expressed concern about having the makeup of the executive board of the consolidated emergency services center include only the counties, Kennewick, Richland and Pasco.
Those are the agencies that would provide assets to the system, Pages said. Other agencies would get a voice on advisory boards as subscribers or could write a check to become an executive member.
Pasco police Chief Bob Metzger said he doesn't want the technical and governmental aspects of consolidation to hold up the project. Those involved in the operation need to work to make sure consolidation happens.
"I'm concerned for my officers out on the street who can't communicate properly," he said.