The city of Connell feels left out of the discussions to consolidate 911 dispatch operations in Benton and Franklin counties.
Connell officials agree with Franklin County Sheriff Richard Lathim's concerns that northern parts of the county would see inconsistent emergency coverage if it were to switch to the type of dispatch system Benton County uses.
The switch has been discussed as part of a plan to bring together dispatch services in Benton and Franklin counties, as well as the cities of Kennewick, Richland and Pasco. Those cities pay for the dispatch services and are represented on a steering committee.
"While we appreciate the concept of urban consolidation in the Tri-Cities, outlying cities must not be ignored," Connell City Administrator Jed Crowther wrote in a memo last week. "Likewise, emergency response by fire/hospital districts must not be compromised."
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Cities like Connell, Kahlotus, Prosser and Benton City will be welcome to pay to receive the emergency services as customers in the future, but shouldn't expect to be involved the way the major players are, said Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck, the county's representative on the steering committee.
"They are not part of the consolidation. They are not providing assets," Peck told the Herald. "We are the ones providing the resources for it and providing the risks to operate it."
Lathim wants Franklin County to be able to keep the VHF radio system that it already uses.
The Pasco Police Department wants to shift to an 800-megahertz system, which Chief Bob Metzger has said is superior and would provide better coverage within the city.
But it would be a different story in rural parts of the county, Lathim said. The 800-megahertz system would have no service in the Kahlotus area or along the upper parts of the Snake River in the county, and limited service between Kahlotus and Connell and in Mesa.
The 800-megahertz system would bring the county back to the same rural coverage it had 40 years ago, he said.
"If you had a deputy up there who had a problem, he was basically on his own," he said.
Lathim has worked to build up the VHF system during his time in office, he said.
"We have a really robust VHF system," he said. "It gets the job done and it meets the needs for our citizens."
Lathim wants to use a "hard patch," which would allow officers on different networks to talk directly. Stephen Gousie, a partner with Sciens, the Texas-based consultant for the consolidation project, said that could be done.
"There are going to be some minor costs involved with the hard patch," Gousie said. "But by and large the technology is already existing to do that."
Benton County's 800-megahertz system has areas that don't get service along the Yakima River, Lathim said.
That would happen with any system, said Benton County Commissioner Shon Small, the county's representative on the steering committee.
"The bottom line is, it doesn't matter what system you have, you're going to have some dead spots," Small said.
The new system is estimated to cost $9.4 million in one-time investments, largely for technology upgrades, Sciens representatives have said.
Franklin County could still switch over to the 800-megahertz system in the future if it decides to stay with the VHF system for now, Gousie said.
Lathim's opponent in the November election, Pasco police Capt. Jim Raymond, could not be reached for comment.
Crowther asked for copies of a feasibility study and business plan for the system in his memo. Connell received a copy of the study by Sciens Consulting on Monday, and posted it on the city's website, Crowther said.
The two counties have separate dispatch centers, and law enforcement uses different radio systems. The differing systems have been blamed for misdirected 911 calls and communications problems between the counties.
The communications issues were highlighted last month by a standoff in Pasco. A man fired dozens of rounds, but Benton County officers who rushed across the river to help could not communicate with Pasco police as they arrived at the scene. Some ended up in the line of fire and a Kennewick officer almost was shot.
An interlocal agreement is in the works that would create a new system called the Multi-Agency Three Rivers Information and Communication Services, or MATRICS.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom