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County presses on comm. Center
April 10, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

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The Scotts Bluff County Board made it clear – it wants a decision from Gering and Minatare whether or not the two cities want to participate in the county emergency communications center.

Phil Kelly, the county’s legal representative, told the board he drafted a position statement for submission to the mayors, city administrators/managers, city attorneys and all council members of both cities. In it he outlined the history of the communications center since its inception in 1990, including all the non-emergency calls handled by the center. Those include services like driver’s license verification, vehicle information, access to the State Patrol radio system and others.

Last year, the county said it was terminating the original agreement, as the county could no longer afford to support all the needed technology upgrades for the center.

A new interlocal agreement outlining support levels for the center was drafted and all county municipalities signed onto the agreement – except Gering and Minatare. They had issues with funding, representation and other stipulations in the agreement.

Last December, the two cities filed suit against the county to keep them from terminating emergency call service. That was placed on hold while attorneys worked to reach an agreement. As of the county board’s April 7 meeting, none has been reached.

Gering has also been exploring other opportunities, such as contracting with Morrill County communications to handle their emergency calls.

“The advisory board has been meeting since their communities signed onto the agreement,” Kelly told the board. “They’re required by that agreement to report to their councils by May 15 about what the equipment needs of the comm. center will be.”

Kelly said the advisory board can’t move forward effectively because members don’t know where they stand. So he requested that Gering and Minatare decide whether they’re in or out.

If the cities decide not to participate, non-emergency call services could end on June 30, either this year or in 2015.

Kirk Arnold, who is running for county commissioner, told the board the loss of non-emergency service would severely hamper law enforcement, as officers use them during traffic stops and many other routine duties. Non-emergency calls account for almost 85 percent of the comm. center’s total volume.

“We have a state-of-the-art communications center and I’m not sure all the citizens of Gering understand that,” said Commissioner Ken Meyer. “The system is available to them, so I hope they pick up on that. We want to make it available to them, but we have to reach an agreement.”

Commission Board Chair Mark Masterton said negotiations have broken down, but the county and other municipalities need a decision as the budget season approaches.

“We’ve been dealing with this for several years and it’s not fair to the other comm. center members to be held hostage by one or two communities,” he said. “All we’re asking is for an up or down vote, whether they want it or not.”

The county set a May 1 deadline for Gering and Minatare to choose how they want to go forward.

“There’s nothing different in the interlocal agreement than what has been agreed to by all the other communities,” Meyer said. “The only thing we’re asking is for them to make a decision to accept or reject the original agreement.”
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