Regional dispatch center receives federal backing

The possibility of consolidating all of Jackson County's 9-1-1 answering and dispatching services into one location got a $700,000 boost from Congress.

The Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved a commerce, justice and science funding bill that includes money for the city of Medford to spend on software that would be needed to consolidate Southern Oregon Regional Communications and Rogue Valley Consolidated Communications.

SORC dispatches emergency calls for the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, many local fire districts and most local police departments, while the city-owned RVCOMM dispatches for Medford and Ashland police and fire departments and the Medford airport fire department.

Consolidation proposals have been bandied about for years without any agreements being reached. No formal consolidation plans exist now, but a study is under way and the agencies have reached out for funding, even as Jackson County builds a new home for SORC and its other emergency management operations, officials said.

"All these things are happening concurrently," County Administrator Danny Jordan said.

Matrix Consulting Group, of Palo Alto, Calif., is doing interviews and collecting data for a study on consolidation, said SORC Director Margie Puckett.

The study, paid for by a $200,000 grant from the Homeland Security Department, will evaluate consolidation, collocation or continued operation of two centers without change, said Craig Amann, Medford police's deputy chief in charge of technical and administrative services, including the city's dispatch center.

"I'm hoping this study will give a real blueprint as to what we should do so policy makers can make a decision," he said.

Matrix's report is due to be done at the end of September. The deadline to request money in the federal budget was early this year, so the city prepared its request then, coordinating with the county.

"If we had missed that earmark deadline, we couldn't get in the budget until much later," Jordan said. Trying to get a piece of the funding now, even if officials here ultimately decide against consolidation and claiming the dollars, was deemed the best option.

Inclusion in the bill that cleared the committee is no guarantee of funding, anyway. The bill must be considered by the full Senate, the House, committees that reconcile House and Senate versions, then signed by the President.

No matter what happens with consolidation and federal funding, the county needed a new building for SORC and other emergency management operations, Jordan said.

In 2007, a state study found the top floor of the old Jackson County Courthouse that now houses the dispatch center is vulnerable to complete collapse.

The county has set money aside for construction and has received a Public Safety Interoperable Communication grant through the state for nearly $1 million to pay for building a new dispatch center at the Medford airport. Cost of the new structure is estimated to be about $5 million, Jordan said.

The county worked with SORC, all its member agencies, Medford and RVCOMM to develop a building that could accommodate a consolidated dispatch center, two centers in a shared building or just SORC and county operations, he said.

The county has received four bids for design-and-build services and is working out details of a contract that will come before the commissioners soon, he said. He expects construction to start this year.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

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