Chronicle Editorial

 

Dispatching’s move a welcomed switch

                It was years in the making, but local emergency communication services finally have a new home inside the Franklin County Law Enforcement Center (LEC). The long-awaited move marks a shift in the right direction for countywide dispatching services and the people it assists, and was indeed a comprehensive effort by everyone involved.

                Moving 911 dispatching services from the Hampton Police Department to the LEC was by no means a small task. Discussion on acquiring a building to house an LEC-type facility began in 2004 and eventually led to the purchase of the old Park School in Hampton. Renovation of the building was another project in and of itself, and it turned out great. The school’s interior was beautifully restored and it’s certainly a point of pride for the entire county. Not many communities are able to salvage old school buildings and put them to functional use, but Hampton and the greater Franklin County area has now done it twice. Park School was transformed into the LEC, and the former Hampton Middle School is now the Church of the Living Word. Many small communities throughout Iowa would be grateful to simply save one building.

                The LEC is great facility—that’s a given. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, 911 dispatching and emergency management services all call the building home now. Dispatching was the final tenant to make the shift, and though the timetable for its move seemed drawn out at times, it’s great to see everything come together in the end nonetheless.

                Local officials from Franklin County, the City of Hampton, the Franklin County Emergency Management Commission (FCEMC) and other agencies made substantial pains to make dispatching’s switch a reality. Efforts to work out the details of the dispatchers’ contracts were extensive, and it wasn’t a small chore by any stretch of the imagination. The dispatchers—once employees of the City of Hampton—had to switch over to employees of the county. This change created more than a few hurdles for officials as they tried to find a common ground. Things like pay scale, benefits, and other details had to get hammered out before the dispatchers could move from the police department to the LEC. All parties worked out a deal earlier this year that finally gave the dispatchers some certainty on an issue that was in limbo for quite some time.

                Of course, the contract negotiations weren’t the only roadblock for 911 dispatching’s move. The FCEMC held lengthy debates this winter and early spring on how to finance the new emergency setup. In the end, the commission settled on a structure that finances dispatching through a 50/50 split—half of dispatching’s $310,000 budget will come from a property tax levy, while the other half will come from per capita tax levy. The structure will take effect in 2016, and it’s probably the best outcome to a difficult situation. Some members of the FCEMC felt the property tax levy was the best way to go while others thought the per capita levy was Franklin County’s best choice. It would appear all parties can be content with the new 50/50 compromise.

                The financing structure is in place, the communication equipment is functioning well and the dispatchers are all moved in at the LEC. The switch was a long time coming, and Franklin County and its residents will certainly benefit from the new setup. Be it a fire, medical emergency or law enforcement issue, 911 dispatching is a vital service that affects all of us. Our county is now covered by a new state-of-the-art system that is capable of continuing the reliable service local residents have come to expect throughout the years.