Kyle council questions finance on 911 dispatch co-location

When the idea of a co-located, meaning shared, 911 facility was first voiced back in 2016, it seemed like the perfect solution to a hard-learned lesson. The floods of 2015 had, in fact, provided a trial run.

When the Blanco River went on its deadly rampage in May of 2015, it forced the county’s telecommunicators to move from the Law Enforcement Center on Uhland Road in San Marcos to the San Marcos Police Department – a  location that was also low-lying but far from the worst of the flooding.

Kharley Smith, then the county’s emergency management director, told the commissioners court as they were considering the 2016 bond election that the situation of sharing 911 resources worked so well that the county personnel did the same thing when the Blanco River rose again in October for 2015.

Smith touted “streamlined resources” and “situational awareness” in selling the idea. Will Conley, then Pct. 3 Commissioner, called the co-located 911 center a”central piece” of the bond election they would put before voters.

Now, as the building that will house the Combined Emergency Communications Center (CECC) is under construction adjacent to the Hays County Government Center in San Marcos, the Kyle City Council has begun to increasingly discuss the issue. In a special meeting Sept. 24, Council member Rich Koch was chosen to represent Kyle on the CECC’s executive committee. City Manager Scott Sellers will join him.

The CECC agreement was originally to be between all of the county’s first responders, but the San Marcos Police Department later pulled out – leaving Kyle, Buda and Hays County as participating parties. One council member from Buda and the Buda city manager will also be on the executive committee, as will Pct. 1 County Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe and Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell. The committee will be rounded out by one member of an emergency services district (ESD) who will be selected by a majority of the county’s ESDs.

Kyle Council member Daphne Tenorio questioned the city’s financial obligation. “We’re sending all kinds of money and not getting any input,” she said. She questioned whether Kyle would incur additional costs if the building – which is being raised by four feet but still in a flood plain – does indeed flood.

She also questioned if Kyle taxpayers were being “hit twice,” because their city taxes as well as county taxes will be used. While Kyle and Buda have police departments, Wimberley and Woodcreek do not, relying instead on the sheriff’s office and constables. “We’ll be paying indirectly” for the protection of those cities, Tenorio noted, at the same time their city taxes will be funding Kyle’s portion of the deal.

Mayor Travis Mitchell seemed to agree, and called Tenorio’s concern “valid.”

“If the co-location agreement requires us to pay some kind of additional amount we have to weigh that against what kind of services we receive,” he said, adding that cities that rely on county law enforcement “arguably receive less services to their community than they would if they self-funded their own police departments.”

Mitchell asked if some sort of workshop could be arranged where all the details of the agreement could be laid out.

Shell, who was in attendance along with Ingalsbe, said he would be amenable to a workshop-type meeting, which Ingalsbe later endorsed. Shell said the CECC would operate under a preliminary budget for at least two full fiscal years and that during that time the city of Kyle’s financial input would be $68,000 per year. After another question from Tenorio about potential flood-related costs, Shell noted the building belongs to Hays County and the county would be responsible for its maintenance costs.

Returning to the original attraction of a co-located center, Mitchell explained how it would improve services and result in faster response times, especially for fire and EMS.

“If someone calls 911 within the city of Kyle, they handle that, but it would only dispatch police.” If that caller also required EMS and fire, the Kyle dispatcher would then make a second call to the county to request that assistance. “Faster response time and better quality of services to residents is really the nugget we are going for,” Mitchell said.

Shell said he would be “happy to attend a workshop here, sit around a table and pass out the paperwork and go over things.”

Ingalsbe agreed. “We have been working on this a very long time,” she said. “We wanted to find a way we could be more efficient in services … we felt this was the best way to do it. We maybe neglected to have everybody in a room communicating and sharing information and I apologize for that.”

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