Councilmen support 911 communications center, but want more details on building

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The committee managing fees paid on telephone bills for 911 emergency dispatch services in Marshall County is planning to consolidate dispatch centers, but Lewisburg's City Council wants details before donating land for a building.

Police Chief Chuck Forbis, a member of the 911 Board, represented the panel during this month's regular meeting of the council when Councilman Ronald McRady endorsed the idea, but he and others, including Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr., wanted details.

"I'm all for it, but until we have more information, I'm not for giving land away," McRady said after moving to defer a decision on the request from the 911 Board.

Councilman Quinn Brandon Stewart also supports the idea.

"I'm all for making the 911 calls more efficient," Stewart said, seconding McRady's motion.

Whitehead wanted to know when the building would be constructed and City Manager Eddie Fuller responded by saying, "We've been talking about centralized dispatch for about 10 years."

There's been no agreement with regard to who would employ the dispatchers, according to discussion at the meeting. Options include the 911 Board, the county and the municipalities.

The 911 Board does, however, have a preferred location for the communications center. It's to face the east side of the property because most of the storms come from the west. It's also to be built into the slope of the hill on what was the Murray Horse Farm. Most of the building would be underground. That will provide natural insulation, thereby saving on utilities, as well as provide security.

An access road would be built between the studios of WJJM AM FM radio and the Elks Lodge.

Lewisburg paid approximately $11,000 an acre for the land and it's been estimated that the cost of the road to the communications center may cost more than the value of the land sought by the 911 Board.

The 911 Board here, and almost everywhere, is a little-known panel that can trace its origins to the 1980s when caller ID was something new for the police. Added to the system was telephone service subscriber information. That includes a street address. As a result, names of roads had to become consistent, and many back roads required names.

The caller ID service, however, is not free. Nor is the basic 911 telephone service since it is a telephone service provided by a for-profit business, the phone company. As a result, a monthly 911 fee was initiated and added to customers' phone bills. When mobile phones became more common, the fee was added to those telephone bills.

The money is made available to the 911 boards. City officials indicated that the 911 Board here has more than $500,000 in its account now. Aside from paying for telephone bills, the 911 Board has no paid personnel, so it has no costs.

Chris Gilbert is the chairman of the 911 Board, but he wasn't at the council meeting, a fact noted by Whitehead. Forbis said he was there to represent the board.

The council unanimously voted to defer a decision on donating land to the 911 Board for a communications center until a more complete set of plans was presented.