County rebuffs Falls City’s combined 911 proposal

The regular meeting of the Richardson County Board of Commissioners was called to order by Chairman Caverzagie at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 24, 2024. Roll call was answered by Karas, Sickel and Caverzagie

Sheriff Hardesty reported to the Board that there are currently 20 inmates being held in the jail.   

Hardesty said he had interviewed a few people, including someone for the dispatch supervisor position. He also said that it had been brought to his attention that some calls going to the Police Department had not been getting transferred to the Southeast 911 Communications Center in Beatrice. He was alerted that the calls were going to the Police Department, and they were taking the information instead of transferring the call to Beatrice. Hardesty spoke with Carla Zarybnicky at the call center and she was going to address this issue with Falls City Police Chief Baker. 

The Board presented the draft interlocal agreement for emergency and non-emergency dispatch services from the City of Falls City to provide to the Richardson County Sheriff. Those present from the City were Anthony Nussbaum, City Clerk; Chief of Police, Jamie Baker; Sean Fouraker, City Council Ward Three. The agreement would be effective August 1, 2024. It would require a one-time fee of $63,900 to cover the hiring and training of 2 additional dispatchers and a monthly expense of 50 percent of the net costs the City incurs in the Falls City Fund 205-E911/Dispatching and reimbursement to the City for County access to City’s mobile deployment software proportionally to the use of the user licenses. 

Rural Fire Department representatives were also in attendance: Jed Fritz and Cody Bahr of Verdon Rural Fire, Andy Dunn from Falls City Rural Fire, and Craig Coonce from the Rulo Fire Department. Discussion was held regarding the dispatch services currently being done with 911 calls.  

Commissioner Caverzagie said the County’s most significant issue that has been discussed is the location. If it stays at the current location, the County will still be paying for employees at the Sheriff’s Department to dispatch and run the jail doors, which will continue to cost $160,000. But the way it’s proposed, the County will pay 50 percent to the Police Department and the $160,000 because the Sheriff’s Department has to have staff there to run the jail doors 24/7 per Jail Standards.  

Commissioner Karas said they’re still looking at over $400,000 for dispatch.

“So we’re just better off just bringing dispatch back to the Sheriff’s Office like it was before and saving the county people that much money so as to be doing this because you want $225,000,” said Karas.

He continued by saying that the City gets over $46,000 for 911 funds, so that would put them at $272,000. 

Nussbaum said that the total cost with two additional people would be about $446,500 with a gain of about $80,000 of income, and it offset in that number to the County, so the $46,000 of that is 911 direct, and the rest is some wireless 911 that comes through landlines that comes from occupational tax. Nussbaum said it definitely won’t need to be included in the agreement, but it was left in to try to offset those costs, that it’s a city income only. 

Andy Dunn said he didn’t understand how the system operates, but he’s a farmer in the County who wanted to know how to make this more efficient. He had an instance where the Chief of the Dawson Fire Department was called and was five miles out of town before a 911 page went through. 

“That’s probably the best case scenario, five minutes worst case scenario closer to ten minutes. If you’re dealing with kids in a house fire type situation, that’s life and death,” said Dunn. “Forget your $100,000 difference in cost. Somehow, everybody’s going to have to say, how can we make this more efficient? How can we do better?”

A recent event where Verdon Fire was dispatched to a wreck and went on a “wild goose chase” was brought up. 

“We show up to a location that we got paged to and there’s nothing there at all. And I don’t know where the mistakes are coming from. But you know, somebody’s seeing that that was a cell phone call. And it pinged off of this tower. We got dispatched literally to that tower two different times one for fire, one for an accident. And the fact that the actual incident was 15 miles, the other direction, you know, we sent all of our resources the wrong way. So at some point, you’re going to have to find a way to get it all married together a lot cleaner than we answered the phone, but it’s the Sheriff’s office, or it’s the fire department, we got to get it all under one roof.”

The incident Dunn is referencing was an accident on Highway 75 on December 27, 2023 where members of the Verdon Fire Department were dispatched to a multi-vehicle accident that ended up being in Nemaha County.

Falls City Police Department Lead Dispatcher Marci Ankrom gave the Journal a statement regarding the call. 

“I understand there are some questions regarding a 911 call that the Falls City Police Department received on December 27, 2023, and I would like to clarify some information. At 12:30 p.m. on December 27, 2023, the Falls City Police Department received a 911 call about a multi-vehicle accident on Highway 75. The caller was unsure of their exact location. Unfortunately, as any 911 Dispatcher will tell you, this is an all-too-common occurrence when answering 911 calls originating from cell phones. Luckily, however, we have access to mapping software that is able to give us either 1) the location of the cell tower the call was routed through or 2) the caller’s approximate location, which is much more precise than just the tower location. This information is transmitted to the PSAP as soon as 911 is answered.

When the Falls City Police Department answered the 911 call at 12:30 p.m., the mapping software showed the location of the cell tower. In dispatching, as in all emergency services, time is of the essence. The Falls City Police Department dispatcher made the decision to dispatch agencies based on the mapped location; the first agency was dispatched within one minute of receiving the call. This type of quick dispatch saves precious minutes and cuts down on response time as it allows the dispatcher to notify the agencies and get them headed in the right direction while they focus on questioning the caller, updating the map, and searching databases to ascertain the caller’s exact location. When the caller is unsure of their location and the mapping software is not giving a precise location, this option saves time and saves lives. 

We have access to amazing, lifesaving technology; unfortunately, technology is not infallible. That’s why collaboration and communication between the dispatch center and responding units is so important. The call on December 27, 2023, was an excellent example of agencies working together to bring aid to those in need and then, upon finding out the accident wasn’t in Richardson County, reaching out to the neighboring county to offer assistance. I would specifically like to thank the dedicated volunteer members of the Falls City Ambulance Squad and the Verdon Fire Department, as well as the Richardson County Sheriff’s Department, for responding to the call.”

Police Chief Jamie Baker echoed Ankrom’s statement to Dunn during the meeting. 

Dunn continued, “On the fire side of that, we need something a lot cleaner than what we’re trying to do now. So don’t 100 percent look at the cost. Start to figure out the service that we’re doing, find a way to find a way that whoever is in charge of it if you leave it at the city desk and they’re doing everything because transferring calls to say well that’s really a sheriff’s office thing that’s a fire or that, you know because many of these times we’re all working on the same scene for the same thing. But if it’s if it’s coming from different places, we’re getting into a lot of problems.”

Dunn said that the Departments are suffering because they’re getting multiple calls that should go to 911, but they’re coming directly to the people. “And right now it’s so messed up. And the problems are so big that that’s what people are doing. We’ve got tons and tons of calls coming directly to people; I’m sure the Sheriff gets calls directly to his phone; you know that that should be going to 911. And, it’s sad that right now, a lot of people don’t trust to dial 911,” said Dunn. 

Falls City Police Chief Jamie Baker said that dispatch is as good as the information they get and that every dispatch center he’s spoken to has said they have that same problem. They’ll get a callback number, and they’ll get as much information as they can, but it’s not always accurate. 

Jed Fritz with the Verdon Fire Department asked Nussbaum, “What’s the angle that Falls City has 911?”

Nussbaum said that the City gets funding for a PCAP, and normally, it’s a county position, but Richardson County gave it up in 1980, so the City took it on. They get $46,000 in federal funding to offset staffing it 24/7. 

Fritz asked what difference it truly makes with the City having it. 

Nussbaum explained that there can only be one PCAP because of State funding. 

“There’s a Southeast 911 committee group that discusses how these things are happening and what all these different jurisdictions are doing. They essentially want to get rid of your smaller PCAPs, in the long run, to try to save some money on the state level. We’ve taken on that burden as a city,” said Nussbaum. “When it went to Beatrice, all that extra cost to have that PCAP in Richardson County remained there; we just took it off, so we put that extra funding into that without taxpayer dollars. We’re buying the power to control our area essentially. If the funding goes away we can still operate our PCAP even if the state said you have zero. $46,000 bucks split that in half; we’re done, you know, $25,000 bucks to keep our control. Otherwise, it’s going to be state-controlled, and we’re going back to where we’re at with dispatching all over the place, and who knows who’s going where, and then each of these entities aren’t getting the voice really probably heard to make sure it’s getting done. So this agreement essentially has that it has an advisory committee, so every entity that’s dispatched, like we just had this discussion right now, how this happened, what we need to do. This develops that committee so that hall this stuff can be hatched out, dealt with locally and control put into place. That’s what we’re buying together.”

Nussbaum said they’re trying to save some costs by keeping it housed where they already have the infrastructure and everything in place. 

Commissioner Karas said one of his “gripes” was that he’s been in contact with the Rural Fire Departments, and if there are issues, they don’t say anything because they don’t feel that anything gets addressed. He feels the Fire Departments need to be more involved because of how important they are, just like the Humboldt ambulance service. 

“If there’s problems, they’re going to have to be addressed, and we’ve had them because I’ve got Page My Cell. I listen to the Fire Departments and stuff all the time, so I know what’s going on, but we need something. I don’t know what,” said Karas.

Nussbaum said that something was built into the agreement, but he’s not aware of those, “maybe they just never made it that far to me.”

He said he lives outside of city limits and wants Rural Fire and anyone else to be able to have a say and make sure those procedures and things get modified to that, so the agreement creates that kind of committee. 

Commissioner Karas said the fire departments have to feel comfortable, and everybody from every fire department needs to be involved so issues are addressed.  

Nussbaum said he agreed 100 percent and that was the only way that things would get faster and kinks would get worked out of the system. 

Police Chief Baker said he invited anyone from the Fire Departments to come to the Police Department to see how the system works. He emphasized that they do have humans that operate the dispatching services and you do have times that human errors like with anything else. “whether your be a police officer, fireman, you’re going to have human error. But if there is something that you can fix, we’ll definitely do.”

Dunn said until about three weeks ago the whole system was confusing and he didn’t even know who to call and complain to.

“How messed up is all of that, that we can’t just put it where we answer the phone, we push the button and it all goes, eliminate steps in there.” He said it’s great that you have everyone working together and coming to the table afterward to say that this was bad, but if you eliminate two tears in there and put it all as one, you limit a lot of time lag and potential problems,” said Dunn.

Right now, all 911 calls go to the Falls City Police Department. If the Sheriff’s Office has a 911 call, it gets transferred to Beatrice; if it’s a fire call or Humboldt Ambulance call, it gets dispatched from the Police Department. 

Police Chief Baker said this proposal could eliminate any middle person and put it all in one department. 

The Rural firefighters asked Chief Baker if they thought his dispatchers would be up to the task of handling the Sheriff’s calls. He said they would add some stuff, and they had done it before and would be able to handle it. 

Jed Fritz of the Verdon Rural Fire Department asked Falls City Administrator Anthony Nussbaum what would happen five to ten years down the road if the City were to run out of money and the Police Department would have to combine with the Sheriff’s Department.

Nussbaum laughed.

“Laugh, but I’m serious, you never know what would happen to this 911 stuff; theoretically, what would happen?” said Fritz. 

“If the PCAP went away, the state would make that decision,” said Nussbaum.

“Could the City transfer the PCAP to the Sheriff’s office at the time?” said Fritz.

“The state is in control,” said Nussbaum.

“Okay, I’m seriously curious. I mean, you can always say something is never going to happen,” said Fritz.

The agreement is a five-year commitment and would renew annually.

Sickel asked why it couldn’t be indefinite.

Nussbaum said that would be fantastic. They put a term in there to show a commitment level they wanted to see since they were taking on additional costs.  

Nussbaum said it would now be four to six months to get the staff “up to par” where they can be “cut loose and on their own,” and not the two years as previously stated.

The Commissioners and Sheriff Hardesty discussed whether they wanted to move dispatch to the Falls City Police Department or out to the Sheriff’s Department.

Chief Deputy Jeremiah Franks said he would like to know what the “end goal” of all of this would be. He said he wasn’t here for the move to Beatrice, but it wasn’t a goal accomplished by moving there. So five to ten years down the road, “where are we going to be?”

There would be a way that the Sheriff’s Department could dispatch directly, but it would be up to the state and a five-person panel. The County would have to go in front of them and say that they want to dispatch Richardson County. They wouldn’t get state funding. So it is possible. It would be an application process and shared cost thing. 

Richardson County built a tower about three years ago; they have the capability to dispatch a console and Dark Fiber, said Sheriff Hardesty. 

The Sheriff said he wanted to take into account that the Sheriff’s Office is a storm shelter, and if a tornado were to hit the Police Department, 911 would be out. Also, The jail is housed at the Sheriff’s Department. 

“We’re talking about saving people money, but are we saving taxpayers money? Because now it’s $25,000 more than what Beatrice offered, and we’re still going to be spending paying wages for four people,” said Hardesty.

Karas said that money could be used to buy the equipment the County would need to set up 911 at the Sheriff’s Department. 

Hardesty said he wanted to look at the end goal. That maybe a partnership wasn’t the way to go, but you can’t get any better than 50/50. However, things would run better if everything was under one roof. 

“I just want to make sure when a 911 call gets transferred, we know where in the hell it’s at in the County. That’s the thing I care about, “said Caverzagie.”

A motion was made by Karas to move and retain the dispatch for the Sheriff’s Department at the Law Enforcement Center effective August 1, 2024, and to approve the purchase of dispatch console equipment from Motorola Solutions, Inc. through the State of Nebraska contract 14534 OC for a price of $246,814 with the lifecycle services provided for five years for a grand total of $332,518. Motion seconded by Caverzagie. Karas-aye, Sickel-nay, Caverzagie-aye.  Motion carried.  

Highway Superintendent, Steve Darveau, Jr. updated the Board on the maintenance being done on county roads and bridges this past week.   Discussion was held on the snow removal from the recent storms, and he reported that the crew did an outstanding job with working to get the roads opened.   

He also reported that a motor grader required a major repair from damage done while removing snow but that the equipment repairs have been made and the machine is back in working order. This incident was also submitted as a claim to the County’s insurance. 

Amanda Bartek-Ramsey, County Treasurer presented to the Board a pledge security receipt #JC92998E from F&M Bank to replace receipt #JC93046 from F&M Bank. A motion was made to approve as presented, and the motion was carried. 

Emily Sisco was appointed deputy county attorney on a contractual basis effective today, January 24, 2024, to assist the county attorney’s office with the resignation of deputy county attorney Alexandra Fleming on January 15, 2024.  

Resolution 2023-2024-29 for a subdivision located in S3, T1, R15 for Frederick Brothers Partnership, a Nebraska Corporation, was adopted. 

A motion was made and approved to pay all claims that were submitted.

The meeting was adjourned at 12:15 p.m. The Board will meet again at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 31, 2024, in the Commissioner’s Meeting Room, Courthouse, Falls City.   The agenda is kept current at the County Clerk’s Office.  

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