Town, county talk combined 911 center

FRONT ROYAL – The town could move its emergency dispatchers into the Warren County Public Safety building but answers to when and for how much remain uncertain.

Town and county officials broached the topic at their liaison committee meeting Thursday but made no immediate decisions about the potential relocation.

Front Royal continues to move forward with plans to design and build a new police department headquarters on the former Avtex Fibers site off Kendrick Lane. Current designs include space for the town’s dispatch center. The project cost is approaching $10 million.

County Administrator Doug Stanley reminded the committee that both localities have talked about the idea off and on for about 10 years. At one time, officials broached the idea of building a public safety center to house the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Front Royal Police Department along with the Department of Fire and Rescue Services, Stanley recalled.

“It came time, fish or cut bait, and the town said we’re not interested, quote, we have a facility that’s gonna last us for the foreseeable future,” Stanley said. “We said OK, we’re moving on with our project.”

However, the county constructed the emergency communications center to hold eight stations. The county uses two stations and, as Stanley noted, the space could provide enough space to handle the Sheriff’s Office, fire and rescue and the town’s dispatchers if needed.

The town and county could save money by eliminating duplicate equipment or cutting redundant employees, Stanley said.

Town Manager Steve Burke said that removing the dispatch center from the plans for the future headquarters would free up space in the building.

Other jurisdictions set up a board of officials and elected representatives that oversees the management of a joint dispatch facility, Stanley said.

“It ultimately comes down to the comfort level of – is the police chief comfortable with dispatch, is the sheriff comfortable with dispatch kind of being outside their control,” Stanley said.

Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron said neither locality made progress on a joint dispatch center before the county needed to move forward on the public safety center. The county runs three or four of the five consoles in the dispatch center, McEathron said. The county could add three consoles, he said.

McEathron recalled asking town police Chief Norman Shiflett last year before the localities began working their budgets if he had considered relocating the dispatch center. McEathron said Shiflett indicated at that time that the town police department did not want to go that route.

The sheriff echoed Stanley’s remarks, noting that a joint dispatch center would help eliminate overlap. Dispatchers in a joint center would receive training to dispatch calls to any of the agencies at a given time, McEathron said.

The sheriff added that if the police chief wants his agency’s dispatchers in the town headquarters then officials from the two localities don’t need to discuss the matter further. But Burke indicated that the idea is still on the table.

“I think from the town’s perspective, I think we’re interested in talking with you all,” Burke said. “I know that a couple of the things that we do need to have some serious discussion about is the ultimate dispatch software ’cause there will be cost.”

The Sheriff’s Office bought its dispatch software in 2014 and opted not to go with the package that the town uses because of the higher cost, McEathron said.

“I have no intention of changing our software,” the sheriff said.

Burke said the town likes its software so agencies need to talk about which way to go. The town also provides a career-advancement program for its dispatchers while the county does not, Burke said.

The town pays its dispatchers more than the county does, McEathron noted. The county also lost one or two of its dispatchers to the town, the sheriff added.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com.