Brookings City Council will ask Portland State University about conducting a study to determine the feasibility of consolidating the county’s and city’s emergency 911 dispatching systems and creating a special taxing district to fund it.

The idea has been broached a few times over the years, but has become more urgent since Motorola announced it will no longer provide parts for radio equipment both departments use.

“We don’t have a choice in this thing — other than if we do it with the county,” said Councilor Brent Hodges in a city workshop Monday afternoon. “We need to update our equipment.”

City Manager Gary Milliman said “the end-of-life issue is coming up, and by end-of-life, Motorola means the equipment is no longer serviceable; they will no longer be providing parts.”

Additionally, the communication towers owned by the county are reaching the ends of their working lives, as well, and are critical to both agencies functioning. Money for the towers comes out of the county road coffers.

The county and city have separate dispatching services primarily because when they were implemented, technology was unable to get radio transmissions over Curry County’s bumpy terrain. It also made sense to have “redundant” systems in case of a catastrophic emergency; if one dispatching center was rendered inoperable, the other could still communicate with the outside world.

The city has appointed police Lt. Donny Dotson to see what it would take to merge the two agencies, outline the technical aspects — different or alternate technologies — and the number of dispatchers needed for a county-wide system.

The issue of where to put a physical center, too, will come into play.

Gold Beach’s dispatch center is in the basement of the courthouse, a building located in the tsunami zone and has also reached the end of its lifespan. Brookings’ is located in a small office at City Hall.

But with today’s technology, Milliman noted, a dispatch center doesn’t even need to be located within the county it oversees.

When he worked for the City of Fort Bragg, California, the city consolidated its dispatch center with that of the county and relocated it to Ukiah — 90 miles away over a mountain range.

“We were concerned that dispatchers not located in Fort Bragg would not be familiar with the community,” Milliman admitted. “That anxiety lingered for a few months, then it wasn’t an issue. The physical location sometimes get in the way of discussion. Physical location isn’t relative any more. It’s more what is the better choice; ultimately, it could be completely off-site.”

Milliman and city Public Safety Director Chris Wallace have been talking about the issue with Curry County Sheriff John Ward and plan to include the new County Administrator Clark Schroeder, who began work Monday.

Brookings Mayor Jake Pieper expressed his concern about joining forces with the county.

“There’s probably money to be saved,” he said, “but I’d be leery of disbanding something that obviously works to join something that doesn’t work and is financially strapped.”

He noted, too, convincing voters to approve a new taxing district to pay for dispatching services is likely to be as difficult as it has historically been to increase property taxes for county services. Curry County has the lowest tax rate in the state — $0.599 per $1,000 valuation — and voters have never approved a ballot question asking to increase the rate.

Costs of updating all the equipment and establishing a consolidated center would all have to be determined in a feasibility study.

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