Report supports regional 911 center

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ROCKFORD - A final report issued earlier this week supports a fully consolidated regional 911 center for solving service issues for law enforcement, emergency medical and fire services in Winnebago County.

Now, the hard work begins, according to South Beloit Police Chief Pat Hoey, a member of the Winnebago County Emergency Telephone System Board (ETSB) and project team leader working with consulting firm Mission Critical.

The ETSB met on Tuesday to hear the final report presentation, with the final document not shifting much from a draft released in August.

The report says the county should establish one center to serve all agencies in the county outside of Rockford, potentially at the existing North Main Street 911 facility, with operations managed by public safety representatives and stakeholders.

"This is about finding what's right for everyone and what's most cost effective," Hoey said.

Multiple agencies, including the Rockton Police Department, Roscoe Police Department and South Beloit Police Department do not pay for 911 dispatch services - something officials have recognized will change in the near future. The Rockton Fire Department pays $6,913 annually to Rocford Memorial Hospital Communications Center (RocComm) while Harlem-Roscoe Fire Protection District pays $122,000 for its own dispatch operation and South Beloit Fire Department pays $25,215 to RocComm.

Last winter, the Rockford Fire Department notified all outlying communities including South Beloit, Roscoe and Rockton, of impending costs for 911 services. The cost estimates caught several safety leaders outside of Rockford off guard and caused controversy.

The multiple channels and the existence of two public safety answering points in the county can cause delays in response time.

"Putting everyone in one place would be a way to make things more efficient," Hoey said.

Communication has improved since last winter, Hoey said, with all outlying agencies forming a coalition to stay informed about the process with the Winnebago County Board and Winnebago County Sheriff's Office.

The process to consolidated could take years, and cost estimates for all contributions haven't been settled, with multiple formulas for funding the effort included in the final report.

"We are all going to have to come together and decide what to do out of this," Hoey said. "Everyone is going to want some say in the process. Everyone deserves a seat at the table."

Future funding could be based on population, total public safety staff levels, call volumes or a mix of options, according to the report. The report suggests hiring a 911 director to oversee the public safety consolidation.

In the short term, the county board approved in its 2019 budget a plan to keep current staffing of the 911 center it oversees at 25 after cuts were considered strongly following the 2018 budget process.

"This is our baseline to figure out what happens next," Hoey said.

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