Monday, October 16, 2000

County lags on merger

Dispatch centers a campaign issue

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The urge to merge catches on slowly in Kenton County when the talk turns to consolidation of the county's three emergency dispatch centers.

        Boone County consolidated its dispatch centers in the 1980s. Campbell County officials are close to reaching a deal to merge its three dispatch centers to a single location in the Newport city building. But in Kenton County, officials are still just talking about studying the idea — for the sixth time.

        Consolidation has now become a campaign issue in the Covington mayor's race.

        It is an issue that will not go away because Northern Kentucky communities spend millions every year on emergency dispatch centers — about $1 million for the city of Covington and $930,000 for Kenton County. Each of the communications centers in Kenton County — Kenton, Covington and Erlanger — has recently been upgraded at considerable cost. Covington, for example, spent $1 million last year on a new computer system.

        Both candidates vying to be Covington's next mayor say consolidation is good, but neither say they would support closing Covington's dispatch center.

        Mayoral candidate Butch Callery would like Covington to encourage smaller cities, such as Park Hills, to contract with Covington to provide dispatch services. He said this would help offset the costs of operating a dispatch center.

        “That is my idea,” he said. “We do a really good job at this. We could do more than an exceptional job dispatching for other cities.”

        His opponent, former Mayor Bernie Moorman, would like the county's two other dispatch centers absorbed into a system operated out of Covington.

        “It's worthy of investigating,” Mr. Moorman said. “Why pay for three?”

        The emergency dispatch centers are expensive because the offices operate around the clock, must be adequately staffed to avoid the risk of calls going unanswered and constantly struggle to keep up with technology, Covington officials said.

        The Boone County Public Safety Communications Center dispatches for 17 fire and EMS units, three police departments and the sheriff's department. It costs about $1.5 million a year, not including capital improvements, and is run by a board of directors.


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