Joint 911 agreement moving forward
Plans are moving forward on the establishment of a joint 911 communications system which will serve Union and Alexander counties.
The move, however, is not being made without some concerns.
The establishment of the joint system was addressed at a special meeting of the Union County Board of Commissioners which was held Friday morning, Sept. 2. The meeting was at the Union County Courthouse in Jonesboro.
The matter also was on the agenda for a regular meeting of the county board which was held Friday morning, Sept. 9, at the courthouse.
Board of commissioners chairman Richard Cunningham said Friday that a special meeting likely will be called to act on approval of the proposed agreement.
Establishment of the joint 911 system has been addressed at a number of recent county board meetings.
County officials are facing pressure from the State of Illinois to consolidate services.
Legislation signed in 2015 mandates Illinois municipalities with populations of 25,000 or less people to consolidate services.
Union County 911 coordinator Jana Fear shared information about the proposed joint system at the Sept. 2 commissioners meeting.
A document which Fear presented to the commissioners focused on why a joint system should be formed and on a proposed joint agreement.
Printed materials which Fear shared with the commissioners explained that the law requires any 911 system which does not operate its own Public Safety Answering Point, or PSAP, to form a joint Emergency Telephone System Board, ETSB, with an existing system that operates a PSAP. Alexander County falls under this requirement.
A PSAP is the final destination for 911 calls – in Union County’s case that would be a high-tech, most up-to-date dispatch center at the courthouse in Jonesboro.
The information which Fear shared with county officials explained that recent legislation does not require Union County to consolidate.
However, some legislators have indicated that Illinois has experienced only the first round of required consolidation. Local 911 officials are looking at how Union County can place itself in what is seen as a stronger position to ward off possible future required consolidation.
“If Union County 911 takes the initiative to consolidate with Alexander County, hopefully it will show legislators Union County ‘has gone above and beyond’ the current legislative requirements by taking a proactive approach to consolidation,” the document Fear shared with county officials stated.
There have not been any proposed legislative changes at this time. Current legislative guidelines require municipalities that have a population of 25,000 or less people to form a joint ETSB. Should the next round of required consolidation mandate counties with a population of 25,000 or less to form a joint ETSB, Union County would fall under such a requirement.
Union County census numbers showed a population of 17,808 people. Alexander County has a population of 8,328 people. The two counties would have a combined population of 26,046, which would be above the 25,000 threshold.
If and when a joint ETSB is formed and implemented, the State of Illinois would send all 911 surcharge funds directly to a designated “custodian of the funds.” Alexander County representatives have agreed that the Union County treasurer’s office “would best fill this need.”
Alexander County currently has a dispatch agreement with Pulaski County. The agreement requires that an annual payment of $20,000 be made to Pulaski County.
Alexander County representatives have agreed that when a PSAP is implemented in Union County, the payment should go to the Union County Sheriff’s Office. Currently, Union County 911 contributes $80,000 for dispatch. This would result in a total amount, after implementation, of $100,000.
Union County has approximately $130,000 in reserves at this time. Monthly expenses are approximately $15,283.28. County officials were advised that if appropriations should be halted, Union County would be able to operate for approximately 8.5 months.
Alexander County has approximately $300,000 in reserves at this time. Monthly expenses are approximately $6,100. If appropriations should be halted, Alexander County would be able to operate for approximately 49.1 months.
“By combining resources, the Joint ETSB should be able to run both systems more efficiently and cost effectively with a resulting increased financial viability for both counties,” the document stated.
If a joint ETSB is formed successfully, Union County Sheriff Scott Harvel plans to explore the possibility of applying jointly for a communication grant for emergency responders for both counties. Each individual agency would be responsible for its portion of any communications equipment which is obtained.
“This is a unique opportunity to strengthen the local 911 systems and more efficiently serve the citizens of Union and Alexander” counties, the document declared. “It is possible that this opportunity will not present itself at any other time.”
Joint ETSB Agreement Highlights
The document shared by the 911 coordinator also outlined details of the proposed joint ETSB agreement.
Highlights of the agreement include:
The ETSB staff will be considered employees of Union County government and will have benefits which are accorded to other county employees.
The joint ETSB PSAP will be located at the Union County Sheriff’s Office in Jonesboro.
The majority of the voting members will be Union County residents. Union County will have four appointments on the ETSB; Alexander County will have three appointments.
The Union County state’s attorney, or a representative designated by the state’s attorney, will serve as the ETSB’s legal counsel.
All surcharge funds will be remitted by the State of Illinois to Union County government for deposit in 911 fund accounts. The Union County treasurer will act as the custodian of the funds.
All Alexander County ETSB reserve funds will be remitted to the Union County treasurer, who will deposit the funds in 911 fund accounts.
Withdrawal from the agreement will require a one-year notice. Each county would retain any equipment which has been installed and/or maintained within its borders.
The joint ETSB will prepare an annual budget, which will be submitted to the Union County clerk for inclusion in the county’s annual budget.
The joint ETSB will be responsible for ongoing costs of administrative 911 employee salaries, insurance and related personnel matters.
An annual review of the joint ETSB intergovernmental agreement may be performed by the Union County Board of Commissioners and the Alexander County Board of Commissioners.
Discussion at Special Meeting
Extensive discussion surrounded the information which Fear presented at the Sept. 2 special meeting.
In terms of state legislation, Fear explained that “nothing at this time requires Union County to do anything.” However, she said that “acting now would put Union County in a good position, should such legislation become reality.”
Richard Cunningham serves as the commissioners’ representative on the Union County ETSB Board. The board includes representatives from throughout Union County. Cunningham also is the chairman of the county board.
“If we don’t do something, it’s going to be forced on us,” Cunningham said about possible action related to a joint agreement. He noted that a number of 911 systems in Illinois already have consolidated their services.
“You can either do it voluntarily, or it’s going to be involuntary,” he said.
Several county officials voiced concerns about entering into an agreement with Alexander County, based on past history and experience with such actions.
Union County State’s Attorney Tyler R. Edmonds was particularly emphatic in voicing his concerns.
“Honestly, I have a lot of concerns about Alexander County,” Edmonds said. The state’s attorney is working to draft a joint agreement document.
“I have a lot of concerns about doing anything with Alexander County,” the state’s attorney said. Edmonds said that he would work to draft an agreement which will be “as airtight as possible.”
“We’re trying to build safeguards as best as we can,” Union County 911 coordinator Fear said.
County commissioner Max Miller said he wants to see a guarantee that Union County emergency services personnel won’t be responding to calls in Alexander County.
Union County Sheriff Scott Harvel said that such action would not happen. He noted that Union County law enforcement personnel do provide assistance to other counties in times of need. However, he said that “our protection comes first.”
As discussion began to wrap up, board chairman Cunningham asked for a motion on whether or not the commissioners should proceed with the proposal to establish a joint agreement with Alexander County.
The commissioners voted unanimously to proceed. Commissioner Miller noted that he was voting in favor of the motion – but with reservations.
The Alexander County Board of Commissioners also would have to vote in favor of the proposed agreement.
Board chairman Cunningham said that he hoped that the commissioners could give final approval on the agreement at their regular meeting on Sept. 9. The state’s attorney said he did not think he could have the draft document finalized in time for that meeting.