The Montgomery County 911 Emergency Telephone System Board (ETSB) came one vote from moving their operation center from the Montgomery County Jail in Hillsboro to Taylorville during a special meeting on Thursday night, Sept. 12, at the courthouse in Hillsboro.
The motion to move forward to consolidate 911 dispatch with Christian County failed to pass on a 3-3 vote. In favor were Chairman Tom Rogers, Joe Gasparich and Darin Beckman. Voting against were Dave Beal, Mandy Sebeschak and Bill Bergen. Board member Dave Weir was not present for the meeting.
Failure of the motion to consolidate 911 dispatch with Christian County does not ensure that the dispatch center will remain at the Montgomery County Jail, though. At issue is a $40,000 difference of opinion of what the ETSB and the Montgomery County Board think is a fair reimbursement for housing the dispatch center in the jail. The ETSB board voted 5-1 to approve a $1.3 million budget with $27,787 for that expense (Gasparich voted no), and the county board Finance Committee believes $67,772 is a more accurate reimbursement figure.
"I've tried to be as fair as possible," Montgomery County Board Chairman Evan Young told ETSB board members at the meeting, describing a list of county services like IT support that have been provided to 911 without reimbursement. "That number we've come up with is just what we feel we have to have. It's a fair amount."
The $40,000 difference of opinion needs to be worked out before the county board votes on its fiscal year 2020 budget, usually at their November meeting. If an agreement is not reached, the worst-case scenario is that 911 dispatch will be looking for a new location when the 2020 county fiscal year begins on Dec. 1.
Before voting to approve their proposed FY2020 budget, ETSB board members did strike a $13,728 line item for a new part-time clerk. Bergen said he would not support a budget that included the new position, and Young also questioned the line item.
After the ETSB approved its budget without the part-time position, discussion began on the possibility of consolidation.
Andy Goodall of the Christian-Shelby ETSB explained that three years ago, the Christian County 911 dispatch was running in the red before a consolidation with Shelby County eased financial woes.
"We had to borrow money for payroll," Goodall said.
Montgomery County 911 Director Greg Nimmo said that he and Sheriff Rick Robbins had attended a Christian-Shelby ETSB meeting, and that board appeared to be favorable to a consolidation. The benefits, Nimmo said, would be long-term stability and increased grant opportunity.
Arguing in favor of consolidation, Gasparich said that next year's budget would deplete 911 reserves, and the phone line surcharge that supports the system decreases by eight cents a line on July 1.
If a consolidation occurred, Goodall said Christian-Shelby would have to add four new dispatchers; they currently have seven who work 12-hour shifts.
"We would be glad to look at candidates from Montgomery County first," he said. Montgomery County currently has 11 dispatchers whose duties include both 911 and sheriff's office responsibilities. Four of those 11 dispatchers were at the meeting.
"I like local," Bergen said before voting against the motion to proceed with consolidation. "I didn't like it when (Illinois State Police) District 18 dispatch went to District 11, and I didn't like it when Litchfield dispatch went to Montgomery County."
Sheriff Robbins expressed frustration that a rift has developed between 911 and the county.
"It has become Montgomery County verses ETSB," Robbins said. "It's pathetic. I think we need to try to work together for Montgomery County citizens. I say we keep a good system in place."
After the difficult votes on the budget and consolidation, Nimmo said differences of opinion will not effect the quality of work.
"When the call comes in, we'll still walk out hand-in-hand and do our jobs," Nimmo said.