COOS BAY — The North Bend and Coos Bay police departments are planning to merge their dispatch centers into one temporary location.
Officials say they hope the transition into Coos Bay’s current dispatch facility is completed by early August.
“It has to happen quickly because I’m running out of dispatchers,” Coos Bay Police Chief Gary McCullough said. “I got one being transferred over to records on Aug. 1 and then I’ll be down to five. I can’t operate my center with five dispatchers.”
The two cities, along with Coos County’s sheriff office, have discussed a joint dispatch center for almost a year, targeting the Coquille site as the joint location because it sits outside the tsunami inundation zone.
“It’s a little more inland, so we think it’s safer down there,” Coos Bay City Manager Rodger Craddock said.
He said the cities were co-locating their dispatch centers ahead of the county, which is preparing to upgrade its current center before adding the city dispatchers.
The upgrades for the county center include replacing seven radio consoles and a remodel that involves seismic retrofitting.
Michael Murphy, program manager for Coos County Emergency Management, said in an email the state-funded Seismic Retrofit Grant for the dispatch building totaled $595,500 and was administered by the Oregon Business Development Department.
Captain Kelly Andrews said the county was ready to begin the updates but also waiting to see when Coos Bay and North Bend will sign the intergovernmental agreement approving the three-agency joint dispatch center.
“We’re gonna do it anyway,” he added.
The updates, according to officials, are overdue.
“You’ve got to understand a lot of our equipment is end of life, end of service — same with Coos Bay’s and North Bend’s — so when we do the combination we want to make sure we get the best stuff that we can to upgrade it all,” Kelly said. “So we are not catching up to their system, we are all gonna catch up together.”
The cities and county will split costs for the work using a formula based off population.
Law enforcement officials say the tentative date to move into the single-center in Coquille is February 2018.
In the meantime, Coos Bay and North Bend will share space at the Coos Bay dispatch center, which unlike North Bend’s, is also a 9-1-1 answer point.
“The real issue — I mean, what’s really pushing it today — is the fact that we all need to find better ways of doing business given our cost to operate is on pace to increase but our revenue that pays for it doesn’t, part of that is specifically with PERS,” Craddock explained, adding that the city’s 9-1-1 center provides services to the Coos Bay Police and Fire departments, the Coquille Police and Fire departments, Southwestern Oregon Community College, the Coquille Tribal Police and the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians of Oregon.
He said it cost the city just north of $1 million to operate that center annually and that the location saw some 33,000 calls for service just last year.
“Those increase annually,” McCullough added, “ so those call numbers continue to grow.”
The growing call volume has put a strain on current dispatchers, according to Craddock and McCullough, who have seen their numbers dwindle through retirements, career changes and attrition from budgetary constraints.
“We generally try to have nine — we’d love to have ten dispatchers 24/7 — but we simply need enough people to operate the center,” Craddock said.
The addition of North Bend’s five dispatchers will bring up the current staff for the center to 10.
City Administrator Terence O'Connor explained the co-location would bring no additional costs for North Bend's dispatch.
He said the two cities were still working on a contract that both councils would need to approve before the process could move forward.
One facet of the agreement involves Coos Bay covering the difference in pay for dispatchers.
O’Connor said that Coos Bay’s make around 10 percent to 15 percent more than North Bend's.
“My understanding is that the North Bend telecommunications staff will be offered wages comparable to their Coos Bay counterparts, a cost which will be borne by Coos Bay,” he added. “Also, any and all costs to ensure a seamless transition from North Bend to Coos Bay will also be the responsibility of Coos Bay. (Our dispatchers) will still be North Bend employees, making North Bend wages, under North Bend supervision.”
According to Craddock, the city would spend $23,000 total in extra expenses to absorb costs to match wages for the North Bend dispatchers.
O’Connor reiterated the arrangement is limited duration, not open-ended and that he did not expect the agreement to last longer than one year.
Even with the extra costs associated with the move, Coos Bay officials are optimistic that it will save the city $170,000 over the next fiscal year, according to a staff report.
“What we are doing is an interim — it sounds like it would be easy to take and put three centers into one but evidently it’s not that easy,” Craddock said. “We’ve just had some changes, so it doesn’t make sense to go out and try to hire and train new dispatchers — and it’s difficult to do that — for just a few months. So that’s why we are combining with North Bend so we can continue providing a service while the county works (on their center).
"The reality is it’s going to be better for our constituents, the customers we serve and it’s a better use of public dollars.”