Garrard keeps 911 service going - for now

February 03, 2004|JIM LOGAN

LANCASTER - Garrard County's 911 center received funding for another month of operation Monday night, but it was clear that despite a powerful show of support for the service, it faces a difficult battle for survival.

In a special joint meeting with the Lancaster City Council, the Garrard Fiscal Court voted to spend $9,000 to keep the center solvent for February. The council, which last week authorized a $3,600 payment to the center, agreed to fund the remaining $5,400 Monday night.

The Fiscal Court's vote came after a number of people in the overflow crowd full of police officers, firefighters, EMTs and dispatchers spoke of the need to keep the service in the county. Officials are researching ways to contract with an outside agency - most likely the Kentucky State Police post in Richmond - to handle the 911 calls.

Betty Godsey, who trains emergency dispatchers for the Department of Justice in Richmond, said the danger of having a distant 911 center comes from the loss of what she called the "critical seconds" that could mean the difference between life and death.


"The problem is going to be prioritization," she said, suggesting that a dispatcher could be forced to delay handling a case because he or she is handling calls from a number of counties.

"Who gets the service first? If one of my grandchildren is choking," she said, "I want to have these critical seconds handled here in Garrard County."

Sheriff Ronnie Wardrip, who is chairman of the 911 board, made it clear that he wanted to keep the center in Lancaster. But he also appeared to accept that its $365,000 budget and $35,000 annual deficit could force officials in the financially strapped county to look elsewhere.

He expressed doubt that the KSP could handle everything the local 911 center does - police and fire calls and emergency medical services - but said, "If they can do it the way they say they can, I wouldn't blame the City Council and Fiscal Court for going that way."

Bill Ledford, a member of the 911 board who recently visited the KSP's Campbellsburg post to see how it handles emergency calls for three counties, said he believed the Richmond 911 option was "more than adequate to meet our needs."

David East, who served on the committee that looked into the KSP handling 911 calls 14 years ago, was skeptical. "I'm not buying it," he said. "It may work in Campbellsburg, but I still say they're gonna prioritize."

County is swimming in red ink

What is indisputable is that the county is swimming in red ink, and that Fiscal Court members are under immense pressure to reduce its multimillion-dollar debt, much of it the result of closing Garrard County Memorial Hospital last year.

Ledford, who visited Campbellsburg with magistrates Joe Leavell and Walter "Tiddle" Hester, said having the KSP handle emergency calls would save the county more than $200,000 a year.

The savings would come at a hefty cost. Most of the 911 staff likely would be laid off. The loss of reasonably well-paying jobs in a tight market would be painful.

It's possible, Ledford said, that the KSP would hire a few dispatchers. But it's equally possible that it wouldn't.

Wardrip offered to open the center's books to a public search for ways to trim its budget. He noted that cutting a maintenance contractor could save as much as $12,000 a year.

Until there is some resolution, Ledford predicted, Monday night's emotional scene will play out repeatedly. Next month, he said, the county will be looking at the "same old thing. And it's gonna wear people out."

He understands that people are upset. But, he said, "I can't help that. It's a business decision, not a personal decision."

To some in the audience, however, seeing the 911 center close down would represent an alarming erosion in the county's quality of life.

As one firefighter said: "We've already lost the hospital. Where's this going to end?"

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