Overhaul considered for county's 9-1-1 dispatch operation

by Sean Dunlap

The Franklin County Board of Supervisors could take final action before Christmas to purchase the latest technology to modernize its 9-1-1 emergency dispatch operations in 2023.

The subject of the project — coordinated through Meadville-based Franklin Telephone Company — came up during the panel’s business meeting held on Monday, Dec. 5.

Chancery Clerk Jill Jordan Gilbert said the modernization effort is estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $183,675.85, and would replace equipment that has, for the most part, outlived its anticipated life span.

“This would involve a total update of all the gear we have now, including the CAD (computer-aided dispatch) system,” Gilbert said. “It would also include installation, training, maintenance and any support agreements related to service calls and trouble shooting in the future.”

Local officials, who unanimously agreed that the upgrades are necessary, did not finalize the purchase on Monday because of some lingering questions they had about taxes for the equipment and the county’s tax-exempt governmental status.

All indications during the meeting had supervisors leaning toward accepting the 9-1-1 improvement proposal at its next session on Monday, Dec. 19.

Franklin County Emergency Management-Homeland Security Director Mark Thornton said the age of the existing 9-1-1 equipment is a cause for concern because it can break down at any given time and snarl emergency response efforts.

“We’ve been told that an upgrade is generally needed every five years, and we’ve gone well beyond five years with what we have in place right now,” Thornton noted.

“Right now, we’ve got one whole side of the current equipment that doesn’t work and if the other side went out today we would not be able to dispatch from the sheriff’s office and would have to rely on hand-held radios.”

Board attorney Bill Halford pointed out a legal determination has been made that Franklin Telephone and its partners in offering the 9-1-1 equipment and affiliated services to Franklin County are sole-source providers — meaning the products cannot be purchased elsewhere.

Both Thornton and Halford said an added benefit is working with a local provider — namely Franklin Telephone — in getting service after the sale.

“In the past with other providers, you’d spend hours or days trying to get to someone that could help you with a repair or service call,” Thornton said.

“In the end, we had a hard time getting someone to work on what we had and now it’s pretty much an impossibility based on the old equipment we are still using.”

Thornton also pointed out the new dispatching equipment, once installed, will be greatly enhanced in term of overall capabilities.

“As it is right now, if a 9-1-1 call comes in ... the operator is trained to keep the person calling on the line,” he added.

“If a second 9-1-1 call comes in at the same time on the current system, the operator has to hang up on the first caller to take the next call. That is a problem because the dispatchers might not get the first caller back on the line.”

Gilbert noted AT&T had previously been involved in 9-1-1 systems installations and upkeep, but the company is now venturing away from that service.

“After the five years on our existing equipment was up, AT&T wanted to charge the county right at $25,000 each year for upkeep, which we didn’t see as feasible to pay because the gear was already outdated,” Thornton pointed out.

“There will be savings with the new equipment and we will be able to get help when we need it without paying for things that are out of date. We need to make this happen sooner rather than later.”

In other business, county engineer Mike McKenzie presented a report on several county-supported projects, including concerns — especially in District 2 — with chip seal paving efforts.

“The reseal job had some issues in places with ‘dirty rocks’ along Elmo Road,” McKenzie said. “So if you ride down the road, you will notice that the rocks are kicking off to the side. It will look gray and new, but will be smooth because the rock is not sticking.”

McKenzie said the issue is what is often referred to as stripping — an issue with excessive dust on the surface of the rock that does not properly allow the aggregate materials to adhere to the liquid asphalt.

“(The contractor) will have to come back and reshoot those spots, which also includes additional places on the south end of Bunkley Road and maybe a few more,” he continued.

“I am going to ride the rest of the resealed roads to see what I can find and add those areas to the list of work that will be needed where stripping has taken place.”

McKenzie said he informed the contractor that it was too late in the year and too cold to reshoot the sections of road impacted by the stripping problem — and suggested the work take place in the spring around March.

The engineer went on to say the county will need to place some temporary painted lines in the center of area roads until the resealing process has been satisfactorily completed and permanent striping can be installed.

In regards to future reseal projects, McKenzie said he plans to draft a list of county roads — ranked in terms of age since the paved surfaces last had attention — for supervisors to consider in upgrading area thoroughfares during the next board term.

“I will also depend on you to tell me your priorities and we can get a final list of where you feel work is needed the most,” he went on to say. “The biggest factor will be how far the money to do this will go.”

In other action during Monday’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors took up these pieces of business:

• Adopted an order accepting the Mississippi Department of Revenue’s acceptance of the county’s 2022 land and personal property tax rolls.

• Ratified an emergency purchase totaling $9,750 to replace a failed culvert underneath a county-maintained road utilized by a school bus in District 5.

• Authorized a $978.94 payment to Walter Beesley for collection of Justice Court fines totaling $3,621.90 in November. The board also compensated Beesley for postage totaling $73.56.

• Voted to pay $1,941 for an annual maintenance contract with Idemia Identity and Security Co., for a fingerprinting machine operated by the sheriff’s department.

• Circuit Clerk Warren Walker asked supervisors to address two grant-related matters tied to the county’s solid waste operations he oversees.

Walker sought an extension for the expenditure of state funds received for the county’s solid waste enforcement program and to request a payment for the county’s waste tire initiative.

• Reviewed Franklin County Memorial Hospital’s revenue and expense report for October.

• Heard from a local resident about the condition of the chairs in the main courtroom saying they were in a state of disrepair with torn or worn fabric and broken armrests. Supervisors said they would look into it.

• Gilbert confirmed the upcoming holidays for county offices with operations ceasing on Friday, Dec. 23 and Monday, Dec. 26 for the Christmas observance and Monday, Nov. 2 for the New Year’s celebration.

The next meeting for the board of supervisors will be held at 9 a.m., Monday, Dec. 19 at the courthouse in Meadville.