Curry County Sheriff John Ward will ask county commissioners today to consider Brookings’ request to pay for half of a study to evaluate the merits of merging the two emergency dispatch centers — an issue that has been bandied about for years.

Ward would also like to place the communications department into its own special district to assure sustainable, long-term funding.

The timing is right for all involved, Ward said, as the county has little money to support its center, and both the county and city systems are reaching their “end of life” and replacement parts are no longer manufactured.

Curry County has two dispatch centers because when they were built, technology couldn’t easily transmit radio traffic between the southern and northern ends of the county.

The city has proposed to contract with Portland State University’s Center for Public Service to evaluate the current system, examine budgets, propose scenarios regarding how a dispatch center might best be operated and learn about the political dynamics involved.

That could be a contentious issue, because in the past, neither the county or city of Brookings has wanted to relinquish its geographic hold on their respective systems when the issue of merging has come up.

The city has said it could absorb the county’s dispatchers, but would prefer to operate the system in Brookings, where it recently built the Emergency Operations Center for a base for major county-wide disasters. Additionally, city officials have noted, the vast majority of Curry County residents live in the south end of the county.

The county, on the other hand, has wanted to keep its dispatch center, even though it is in the basement of a dilapidated structure — the courthouse and jail building — that itself has reached the end of its lifespan and is in the tsunami zone.

The county has informally debated about where it could rebuild a new jail because one would not be permitted to be built in the tsunami zone, officials have said over the years. But there is no land in Gold Beach available for such a facility — a situation Brookings officials have noted when evaluating the pros and cons of keeping the dispatch center in Gold Beach or merging it with the city’s.

PSU’s study

Portland State University officials estimate the feasibility study will take 344 hours to complete; if it had been started July 16, they anticipated a completion date of November 30.

Commissioner Sue Gold asked him where the money might come from for the county’s half of the $35,000 study.

“I don’t have that in my budget,” Ward said. “It’s a county project. The centers provide communication for (numerous) agencies.”

He suggested in his report that there is $60,000 in the non-departmental budget for “other materials and services” that could be used.

The most expensive part of the study would be the time involved, estimated at almost $32,000. The work would include evaluating what the city and county have now, demand on the system, research into state laws and local ordinances, evaluating what is on the market, a cost/benefit analysis and writing the report. The remaining $3,000 is for estimated travel costs.

Ward noted that county officials should be well aware this issue would have to be addressed at some point.

“This has been a long time coming,” he said. “We’ve been discussing this for 15 years. We’re finally to the point we all agree it’s time to do it.”

A major concern — other than the four antiquated computer consoles, at $80,000 apiece and that will be outdated come December — are the communications towers that also need repairs and upgrades, he said. Each of those costs $1 million to replace, Ward said. Brookings has one tower adjacent to its Emergency Operations Center and the county owns seven.

Portland State officials said they realize “the city and other jurisdictions might need to move quickly to replace the existing … systems,” and could present updates of various parts of the analysis as they are gathered.

Also, it could develop a proposal for a community input or involvement plan.

The issue will be discussed at the regular commissioner meeting today. It begins at 10 a.m. in the Curry County Annex building on Moore Street.

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