E-911 advisory board helping to move discussion of operation’s location forward

Published 4:43 pm Monday, June 5, 2023

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NATCHEZ — The county’s Board of Supervisors seems ready to provide some relief in accommodations for the E-911 dispatch center, but members said they need to know if the City of Natchez is going to continue to be a part of the dispatch operations before moving forward.

The city and county have shared emergency and law enforcement dispatch services since 2017. However, when the E-911 advisory board recommended the operations center be located in its own building, the city balked. Rather, Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson pitched an idea about locating dispatchers at the city’s police department. That idea did not sit well with many of the county supervisors and the E-911 advisory board because other E-911 staffers would be stuck in its present, inadequate facility.

E-911 staffers and dispatchers have been working in what has turned out to be terrible accommodations in the basement of the Adams County Sheriff’s Office and Jail. Workers sit in the basement behind heavy metal doors and noise from the offices and jail above cause problems for dispatchers.

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To make matters worse, the bathroom upstairs floods and toilet water and urine rain down on the dispatch office through its ceiling and light fixtures. Mold, mildew and odor are something workers live with every day.

Annette Fells, who manages dispatchers, as well as Robert Bradford, E-911 director, have pleaded for years to the officials in the City of Natchez and to supervisors for a safer location more conducive for productive work. Thus far, the city and county have been unable to agree on where to house dispatchers and even whether to continue with the joint dispatch operation.

Is the city going to pull out of E-911 dispatch agreement?

Supervisors Ricky Gray and Angela Hutchins said the board of supervisors must know if the city plans to continue to share dispatch services before moving forward with any E-911 decision. County supervisors apparently have identified a location to which they would like to re-locate E-911 operations, although they have not said where that location is.

County Attorney Scott Slover told supervisors on Monday morning that city officials are not interested in meeting about the dispatch center.

“If we are in the process of buying a new building and moving E-911, we need to know if the city is going along with what we want to do,” Gray said.

“They have not indicated they are on board with buying a new building,” Slover said.

“My main concern has been if we move over to this new building and move E-911, is the city going to pay their fair share? Are they going to take their dispatchers and take them elsewhere? Don’t you think we need a commitment one way or another? We don’t want all of a sudden to have bought a new building and don’t have anybody to put in it,” Gray said.

Hutchins agreed.

“We have asked at the last two meetings to have a meeting about this with the city. The last meeting we have had about recreation, they said they don’t want to meet on E-911 but they want to meet on everything else. My thing is, we need to know what they are going to do and what their obligations are. Like Supervisor Gray said, they are coming for other things like fire. They need to meet with us on E-911,” Hutchins said.

The city contracts with Adams County to provide fire fighting services and is set to propose a significant increase in that contract, Natchez Fire Chief Robert Arrington said at the city’s last meeting.

Apples to apples comparison

Tim Houghton, who is EMS chief for AMR ambulance service and president of the E-911 board, said his group has asked Natchez architect Johnny Waycaster to come up with an estimate as to what it would cost to adequately repair conditions in the basement location where E-911 is now, as well as expand for the actual space needs of the operation.

“What we need to know is what it would cost to take care of all of the issues we are targeting now as well as what it would cost to expand that area out,” Houghton said. “We haven’t assigned a square footage yet, but we need room for the administrative side of E-911, the actual communication side and space for 911 training and education. That way, the boards will know what we are looking at. They will have the information they need to make a good decision.”

In addition, the dispatch center is operating with equipment that will need to be replaced soon.

“The dispatch equipment we currently have has met its lifespan and potential. It’s not feasible to repair it. In some cases, we may not be able to repair it if it goes down,” he said. “Just like every other communications center, equipment must be replaced every seven or eight years. We are trying to get rates for that equipment now.”

Houghton said the need for improved or different space at the same time that dispatch equipment should be replaced is an opportunity, not a challenge.

“It’s an opportunistic time line. It makes more sense to have the determination on where that equipment will be housed. We surely don’t want to create that expense right now and then replicate that expense someplace else later,” he said.

Houghton said the city’s Board of Aldermen and the county’s Board of Supervisors are doing the right thing in being careful in making decisions.

“Both boards are doing due diligence. They are not fighting E-911. They are trying to be good stewards of that tax dollar and answer the questions of the citizens they represent,” Houghton said.

Despite the limitations of its current location, Houghton said E-911 is functioning well.

“It’s functioning now better than it’s ever been. In order to take it to the next evolution and to continue to support the citizens of Adams County, we need these items,” he said.