Council Agrees to Move Forward with 911 Center

By Beacon Staff

After almost an hour of discussion, the Kalispell City Council voted 7-2 last night to begin negotiating with the county to form a new interlocal agreement for a consolidated 911 Emergency Communications Center.

The new center is meant to streamline communications between Flathead County, Whitefish, Columbia Falls and Kalispell emergency services. The county’s 911 center currently handles law enforcement calls for unincorporated county residents, and all the fire and ambulance calls in the cities and rural areas. Each of the three cities, though, has emergency dispatch centers for their own police. The new center would bring them all under one roof and system.

It’s the politics and financing of a consolidated 911 center that has complicated the merger in the past, and again raised controversy at Monday night’s city council meeting.

Councilors Hank Olson and Bob Hafferman voted against the proposal, saying they believed the merger was ultimately beneficial to the city, but couldn’t support the consolidations without solid financial figures. There was disagreement at Monday’s meeting over the city’s percentage of the total bill, the expense of staffing dispatchers and where the city would find budget monies to support the center.

“If we don’t try to understand the situation and agreement beforehand, then we’ll be stuck again like we’ve been stuck before,” Hafferman said. “I can’t vote for this until I see a proposal and break down of exact numbers.”

Mayor Pam Kennedy stressed that the center would not have any affect on this year’s budget and that the resolution before the council was meant only to enter the city into negotiations.

“We will have the next two years to determine fair numbers and set aside money in the budget,” she said. “What the commissioners are asking is that we indicate we are in support of consolidation, so they can move forward.”

In other agenda items, the council took public comment on its 2008/2009 fiscal year budget. Only one person, a Columbia Falls resident, commented on the budget. The council also voted to extend the current contract between the city and the firefighters union with a four percent cost of living increase.

After the regular meeting the council held a work session, where no votes are allowed, to discuss its budget and cash reserves goal for the coming fiscal year, impact fees on city-owned property and its community and economic development mission.