What started as talk about 10 years ago, then began to be implemented a year ago, looks as though it will now come to fruition next month.
On Tuesday, the Madison County Board of Commissioners approved an interlocal agreement with the City of Norfolk to provide dispatch services for Madison County. On Monday evening, the Norfolk City Council will consider the same interlocal agreement between the city and county.
Madison County Sheriff Todd Volk said the tentative date to make the switch is Tuesday, Oct. 5.
Volk said the county’s police and fire departments have been made aware of the change. Outside of the City of Norfolk, Madison County dispatches for all the entities in the county, he said.
“As we’re getting into the final process here, if I wasn’t fully sure that Chief (Don) Miller and his staff wouldn’t do an absolute perfect job handling dispatch and 911, it wouldn’t be going up to Norfolk,” Volk said.
Looking toward the future, this will be a “very good venture for Madison County as a whole,” Volk said.
Troy Uhlir, Madison County board chairman, said the biggest reason to do the merger is to save funds by having just one dispatch center.
“It comes down to monies and efficiency,” Uhlir said.
There’s new equipment coming in the future, Uhlir said, and it makes sense to have all the necessary upgrades at just one center.
To get the merger going, a committee was created with representatives of the county, city, the rural fire districts and the cities in the county. The committee will continue to meet as concerns come up even after the merger.
Uhlir said there wouldn’t be any savings in the first year because the county has to pay to move the equipment and get everything set up, but it will save money in the long run.
Norfolk Police Chief Don Miller said besides Norfolk, the city contracts to dispatch for Stanton County. It also dispatches for Hoskins Fire & Rescue.
“This endeavor has taken a lot of people,” Miller said. “It’s not as simple as flipping a switch and starting a dispatch. We’ve got a ton of infrastructure that we’re working on, staffing issues, frequencies and towers and equipment. We have some great people on board to help figure all this stuff out.”
As this gets going, it will eliminate redundancies and save money, Miller said.
“Running two of them in a county didn’t make sense to any of us,” Miller said.
Commissioner Ron Schmidt said it is great for taxpayers that the two entities are working together.
“It might not have been seamless, but it’s been really good,” Schmidt said.
Both Miller and Volk have been updating the county on progress over the past year.
Volk said that before the final change, Madison County will conduct tests with the City of Norfolk, switching over everything for several hours at a time to make sure there aren’t problems and to correct any that might come up.
Miller said the original plan was to have a building renovation at the Norfolk Police Division, but that didn’t work out. The police division will make it work in tight quarters initially, he said.
Then at some point in the near future, the classroom and conference room in the northwest corner of the police station will be gutted and transformed for six stations, Miller said. It will be its own dispatch center, with its own restroom, kitchen and supervisor’s office, he said.
The City of Norfolk has three dispatch stations. Madison County has two stations, with all the equipment from Madison County being moved over to Norfolk.
“There will be a desk for the sixth one,” Miller said. “You don’t want to build to only what you need, (with the sixth station ready to be converted when it is needed).”
Based on estimates, the plan is to add four dispatchers to the Norfolk Police Division’s current total. “That gives us one additional person on each of the shifts,” Miller said.
So far, two dispatchers have been hired and two more dispatchers will be hired.
Until the renovation is completed, Norfolk will use the police division’s three stations, plus the supervisor’s office as the fourth station, Miller said.
“It’s going to be tight, but it will work,” he said.