City approval makes dispatch merger a reality

A single emergency dispatch department serving both Huntington County and the city of Huntington is set to become a reality on July 1 after receiving the Huntington Common Council's approval on Tuesday morning, Feb. 26.

"You have accomplished something that's never been accomplished before," Mayor Brooks Fetters said. "This is a very positive thing for the citizens of Huntington."

The new dispatch center, according to the resolution that created it, will "operate without regard to territorial boundaries of the City, Towns, and County."

The city council's approval of the merger of city and county dispatch centers followed on the heels of Huntington County Council's approval of the same agreement the previous evening. Both councils voted unanimously in favor of the merger.

The joint city-county dispatch center will be located on the second floor of the Huntington County Jail but will be an autonomous department.

"Upon approval of the city council, we're ready to start the building process," said Huntington Police Chief EJ Carroll, who chaired the joint dispatch planning committee.

The merger, Huntington County Commissioners President Leon Hurlburt told the city council, will result in first-year savings of about $130,000 for the city and $160,000 for the county.

"Now we're not duplicating services," Hurlburt said. "We'll be able to do more with less."

The city and the county will share equally in the cost of renovating the jail's second floor for the dispatch center. Operating costs for the first year will be paid 60 percent by the city and 40 percent by the county.

"I'm 100 percent behind this project," Councilman Greg Davis said, but asked why the city will pay the larger share of operating costs.

Fetters, repeating an explanation presented to the county council the previous evening, said the city currently budgets more for its dispatch operation than the county does for its dispatch center; the city employs more dispatchers; and city residents make more emergency calls than do county residents. The funding split will be reviewed once the joint dispatch center is up and running, he said.

"We'll take a look at it once a little bit of the dust settles," Fetters told the council.

Fetters, noting that the possibility of combining city and county dispatch centers has been under discussion for more than three decades, lauded the committee of city and county representatives that spent the past 12 to 15 months hammering out a final agreement.

"I think you're going to see a lot more cooperation on projects in the future," Hurlburt said.