As officials from the city of Shawnee and Pottawatomie County continue talks toward a possible merger of the two 911 centers to better serve all residents, they agree that a tour of Muskogee’s successful 911 center earlier week was “impressive.”
An informal committee that has been talking about ways to consolidate the two local centers, with efforts intensifying in recent months, made plans in February to tour other counties that have had successful mergers of 911 centers.
Thursday, a group traveled to Muskogee to see the results there after five smaller 911 centers merged into one under the direction of a trust board.
Shawnee Mayor Wes Mainord said the tour was very informative.
“They put the county and city together in a merger like we are discussing,” the mayor said, adding the were able to see how it was set up “with electronics everywhere.”
“It’s very sophisticated,” Mainord said, adding the costs of running the one center there are divided between the city and county.
“It was kind of exciting to see,” the mayor added.
Mainord, who said Muskogee has shared their trust documents and interlocal agreements, still feels consolidation is a good idea, but admits it may take some time.
“It may take a while to get these ducks in a row,” Mainord said.
Pottawatomie County Commissioner Melissa Dennis, who said the population of Muskogee County is very similar to Pottawatomie County, said the visit went well.
“They told us how it went from the beginning stages to where they’re at,” Dennis said, adding they all listened, learned and asked a lot of questions.
Seeing the 911 center in full operation was a key part of the tour.
“It was inspiring to me,” Dennis said. “They make it look so easy.”
But Dennis said there were a lot of logistics involved in getting that center up and running.
“It took them a year to get everything ready and going before they could flip the switch and open the center.”
Shawnee Police Chief Russell Frantz, who oversees the city of Shawnee 911 center, said he was impressed in the oversight of Muskogee’s 911 center, which is a governance board made up by the actual stakeholders of the system, such as police chief, fire chief and other leaders in that county’s public safety system.
“I liked how their governance board was made up by users of the system,” he said. Frantz also was impressed with the systems in place.
Page 2 of 3 - “Shawnee Police Department technology matches their technology and they’re doing the same stuff we’re doing,” Frantz said. “Our dispatch has the same capabilities.”
Frantz, who said the city of Shawnee has about a $630,000 annual budget for its 911 center and Pottawatomie County’s budget is about $710,000, said the Muskogee Center is run on a $2.1 million budget with costs split between the city and county there.
Through hearing how the center came to be in Muskogee, Frantz said they learned the first six months was tough, but there are many similarities. Frantz said he discovered the dispatch room there is about the same size as an area of city hall that he has proposed for use as a merged 911 center here in Shawnee.
Muskogee also has about six dispatchers on duty for each shift, he said, which is very comparable to what is done locally with three on duty at Shawnee and two to three at the county center, proving his theory that all job positions from the two centers would be needed even with a local merger.
“We’re not saving money people wise,” the chief said, but rather facility wise by not operating two different centers.
Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth, who serves as a board member of the County’s E-911 trust board, said the trip was very beneficial in giving them a direction to go from here.
“In my opinion, we’re further along than they were they they first started,” Booth said, adding they can learn a lot from others as they go through this process.
“Why reinvent the wheel — we can learn from what they’ve done,” Booth said. ‘They’ve got a lot of good ideas.”
Judy Chance, also a member of the county 911 board, said they saw a lot of good things about Muskogee’s successful center.
“The tour of the center was amazing,” she said. “The folks at Muskogee are very knowledgeable and have experienced much of what we have been going through here in Shawnee.”
Chance said they learned the key their merger was an interlocal agreement as well as the formation of a trust with representation of all entities, with employees being trust employees and the city and county splitting the costs of the center equally.
And while local officials still plan to conduct tours of other 911 centers, possibly in Lawton and Elk City, Frantz said he still believes an outside consultant previously discussed is a good idea as they continue toward consolidation.
With the city of Shawnee having $8 to $10 million in assets toward a merger, Frantz said he feels it’s a good idea to have an outside set of eyes to look at and advise officials through the process.
Page 3 of 3 - “We want to make sure we get this thing right from the beginning,” Frantz said.
The city of Shawnee currently operates its communication center to dispatch Shawnee police, fire and REACT ambulance calls, while Pottawatomie County 911 has its service operating out of Tecumseh. The county 911 center dispatches for Tecumseh, county fire departments, REACT as well as the sheriff’s office and some tribal departments.
Watch for updates.