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Originally published: 2014-06-26 18:11:30
Last modified: 2014-06-26 18:11:30

County responds to Boone dispatch decision

by Anna Oakes

Watauga County leaders said this week they have not received communications from the town of Boone about the municipality's decision not to join a consolidated 911 dispatch center.

Although the Boone Town Council did not take formal action on the proposal, council members' comments earlier this month indicated the town would not be consolidating its dispatch services with those for Watauga County and Blowing Rock.

"(Boone Police) Chief (Dana) Crawford ... recommended that there not be a consolidation at this time ... (that it) wasn't prudent," Boone Mayor Andy Ball said at a June 9 budget workshop.

Members of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners for several years have advocated for consolidation of local dispatch systems, asserting it would eliminate confusion about jurisdictions, provide future cost savings and ease compliance with future state regulations. Blowing Rock combined its dispatch operations with the county in 2012, when a new 911 communications center opened under the supervision of new Emergency Services Director Jeff Virginia.

"It seems to make sense that when something's consolidated, it's going to be cheaper for everybody all around," said Watauga County Commissioner David Blust. "I think they're making a mistake, but that's not for me to say."

Blust said he understands that towns wish to maintain control over certain areas, but feels the move would benefit local citizens.

County Manager Deron Geouque said the county believes a centralized 911 dispatch will enhance interoperability and interagency coordination and improve emergency response times.

"There have been too many times where callers have been bounced back and forth between Boone dispatch and county dispatch, wasting valuable response time," Commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller said. "I hope that the town of Boone does one day soon see the benefit of providing an enhanced service to their citizens and county citizens."

The county also argues that consolidation would reduce the duplication of services and redundant capital projects.  

"Given the proposed investments in high quality equipment, facilities and staff, the level and quality of service provided by a consolidated dispatch center will exceed those currently in place," Geouque said.

The Boone Town Council this month agreed to spend $285,000 in undesignated funds to renovate the Boone Police Department building on Blowing Rock Road -- in part to expand the town's dispatch services to space formerly occupied by the town's Planning & Inspections Department.

Council members questioned whether or not to invest the money on improvements now with the possibility of the police station moving to a new government center facility in the future, but town leaders said the construction of such a center would be several years away.

Crawford submitted a two-page report on the consolidation proposal to Boone Town Manager Greg Young on March 28. Crawford concluded that the proposal's disadvantages and unanswered questions outweighed any advantages.

"In my mind, I think it would lower our services," Crawford said at a Boone Town Council budget workshop held earlier this month. "Our dispatchers understand our issues in the town. If we give that away, we won't get it back."

Crawford also determined the town would not realize cost savings through consolidation due to the need to find new revenue for GIS services, necessary upgrades and other factors.

"There was no cost savings," Crawford said.

Councilwoman Lynne Mason said it's important for the public to know that consolidation was "carefully evaluated."

Geouque said the county had not received a copy of Crawford's report or formal notice from the town regarding consolidated dispatch.