PRYOR, OK —
Mayes County Commissioners discussed changes to the 911 Center at the meeting Monday.
The commissioners discussed seperating the 911 center from Mayes Emergency Services Trust Authority management and making it a stand-alone entity. The meeting room was full of individuals representing the city of Pryor, the county and MidAmerica Industrial Park.
Harriett Dunham, who has served on the MESTA board in the past, said the subject is near and dear to her heart.
She said the 911 Center is state-of-the-art and is a model for other communities.
“When the city or the sheriff's office needed help updating their program, MESTA stepped up to help them,” Dunham said.
She pointed out the technology MESTA uses, particularly the ability to pinpoint the exact location of a 911 caller using a cell phone, saying the community is lucky to have the center.
“I'm concerned that MESTA would have to lay off employees. The city, county, fire department and other entities would have increased dispatch fees,” said Dunham. “Let's back off and look at the ramifications. We're talking about life and death situations and Mayes County deserves the best.”
Commissioner Darrell Yoder, who is spearheading the project, said the commissioners had no intention of voting immediately and that he understands the need for discussion.
“Our goal is to bring it all under one umbrella, not have dispatch over here sending calls over there. That presents the opportunity for dropped calls. That can't happen if they are all together. Efficiency is crucial when time is of the essence,” said Yoder.
Dunham agreed that time is of the essence, but added that often the more parties involved, the more time lapses while calls change hands.
“There is only one 911 Center in Oklahoma that is operated by their ambulance service, and it's us,” said Commissioner Alva Martin. “The rest are run by their sheriff's office or are stand-alone.”
“Back when the 911 Center started in 2000 or 2001, it was offered to the sheriff’s office or the city police department to run it,” said Rick Langkamp, MESTA Director. “They turned it down. My predecessor decided we could handle it, so they took on the task.”
Martin said he has heard from numerous towns who would love to be involved but refuse to do so with the way the center is run now.
“Rick has made the statement to me that he wouldn't mind being stand-alone as long as MESTA is represented on the board,” said Martin.
Commissioner Ryan Ball said the center is running as efficiently as possible and that there are numerous questions that have not been answered.
Ball fired off questions to the other commissiners: “Will another governing board be created? If it is seperated does the county take more liability? Will it cost more to keep the grounds and will we have to pay overtime to do so? Will county employees be working it? What about utilities, how is it set up? Can it stand alone financially?”
Yoder re-emphasized that he was not interested in voting during the meeting and said that he is interested in hearing every aspect of both sides of the argument. He agreed there are questions to be answered and research to be done.
“I think it should stay where it is, but in order to grow it needs to be stand alone. There are towns that won't be involved because they don't like the way it is running,” Martin said.
“That sounds like a personal issue, not a business issue,” said Ball.
“It needs a governing board seperate from MESTA with independent thinkers. Even the mayor of Pryor would like to see it stand alone,” said Martin.
Attorney Fred Sordahl, speaking from a legal standpoint on behalf of MESTA, said the commissioners need to review contractual obligations.
“I think everyone's primary concern is providing the best service we can for the citizens of Mayes County,” said Sordahl.
Langkamp raised the concern of having employees of different paygrades working side by side at the same job. He said when these employees know their coworkers are making more money it will create tension in the workplace.
“Everyone knows that the sooner responders get to the scene the better, so why would we not do everything possible to speed up the process? We've got a great center, it has been run very well,” said Yoder.
He said that should the commissioners decide to approve making the center a separate entity, he wants a smooth transition, which is why he wants to open up the discussion and hear all arguments ahead of time.
The question was raised why the community has a police department dispatch and a sheriff's office dispatch, since there is a 911 center.
“There are definite differences between a police dispatch and fire, for example. They need different information,” said Langkamp, who said the system, including transfers and information sharing, is working well.
Yoder said the proposed change addresses that.
“I want to get everyone under one umbrella. By everyone I mean everyone, sheriff’s office, city of Pryor police and fire,” said Yoder.
Martin said he has given thought to the sheriff's office operating from the 911 Center, which would allow the air conditioning system at the courthouse to be turned off at nights to save money. He said he did not know if it would be possible to turn off the system.
Yoder said he has been hearing requests to make the 911 Center stand-alone since he took office. He said he hears more arguments than some individuals simply because of the scope of the parties involved. As a commissioner he is able to see the big picture rather than the information specific to one entity, he said.
Yoder said he will begin scheduling meetings, doing research and getting answers and he asked the other two commissioners to be involved in the ongoing discussion.
Yoder made a motion to take no action on the subject for the time being and to bring it up at a future meeting, which was approved.
Outside the meeting, Pryor Mayor Jimmy Tramel said he would like to hear both sides of the argument, but ultimately wants whatever is best for the community.
The city of Pryor is not financially involved in the center.
“The county pays MESTA about $15,000 a month and it generates about $25,000 a month,” said Martin.
Langkamp said the revenue comes from a phone tax, the county 911 fund, then MESTA itself.
As far as county citizens go, if they notice any change at all it will be change for the better, Yoder said.