Friday, April 19, 2024

York County to Vote on Emergency Dispatch Center Merger

JAMES CITY COUNTY — Voting by the York County Board of Supervisors regarding the consolidation of the James City County (JCC) emergency dispatch center with the York-Williamsburg-Poquoson center will take place on Tuesday, June 6.

If approved by both counties, a regional emergency dispatch center will consolidate James City County, Poquoson, Williamsburg and York County into one location. That facility would be located and managed by York County. It would handle all fire, police, and emergency medical calls for the four localities.

Why Combine the Two Centers?

According to Assistant County Administrator Brad Rinehimer, the benefits of the merger include a larger consolidated center that will allow for improved staffing, technology upgrades and shared costs.

Citing staffing issues as a main concern for the merger at the April 25 James City County Board of Supervisors business meeting, Rinehimer presented the Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement ordinance to consolidate the two emergency communication centers.

“Our number of full-time trained dispatchers is the lowest it has been in over ten years and there is a very real concern of our own ability to staff a stand-alone center,” stated Rinehimer, “I know there has been a lot of discussion and comments made by those involved in the consolidation and I understand the concerns that are being raised and how our current employees feel about a potential consolidation. Unfortunately due to staffing, we are in a position that this seems to be the only feasible alternative.”

A Change.org petition which began circulating after the March 28 JCC Board of Supervisors meeting to discourage the vote disagreed with that rationale.

The petition, which gained close to 2,000 signatures, states it is designed to “show citizens of James City County just how important it is for the James City Emergency Communications Center to stay exactly where it belongs, in James City!”

The Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement, despite opposition, was unanimously passed at the April JCC Board of Supervisors meeting.

“From a business perspective, it makes sense. From a public safety perspective, the risk of not being able to properly staff our own center is just too great and one that could seriously jeopardize public safety here in James City County.” Rinehimer concluded, “A merger is in the best interest of the county.”

Rinehimer acknowledged the “many emergency communication personnel in attendance” and thanked them for their “dedicated and unwavering  support for the citizens and first responders in JCC before stating, “A consolidation is in no way meant to signify any deficiency on their part or the very positive history of our own center.”

Each board member spoke before the vote was taken, thanking the current employees, the staff at York County and all those involved in the consolidation process.

“This is very tough because this is a human issue, having a change of your position and where it is located is not easy. I have great empathy for that,” Supervisor Ruth Larson said. “I don’t think anyone had any motive other than what I heard from Mr. Stevens (County Administrator) from the get-go was a great concern over coverage of the 911 center. That is what brought us here today. I have no reason to think it was anything else.”

“This is probably one of the most difficult decisions that this board has made because it affects the lives of people directly,” stated Supervisor Jim Icenhour, “I want to make sure when we do this, and I think we have to, that the number one thing on my mind is that we do the utmost to protect the interest of the people that have been working for us so faithfully for so many years. The step we take today, basically says we think there is a need to do it.”

Supervisor John McGlennon added, “As challenging as it is to make a change like this I think I was more reassured that by the fact that they have gone through these kinds of mergers, in two cases, previously. I hope folks will just give it a chance.”

The vote goes before the York County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, June 6 before heading back to JCC Board of Supervisors for final approval of the merger on Tuesday, June 13.

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