Arkansas State’s 911 consolidation plan could spell financial trouble for Miller County

TEXARKANA, Arkansas — An effort by the Arkansas Board of 911 to streamline public safety response points, or 911 centers, could leave Miller County in a financial emergency.

The Arkansas side operates two 911 dispatch centers — one at the Miller County Sheriff’s Office on U.S. Highway 71 south and the other at the Bi-State Justice Center, which primarily handles calls within the Texarkana city limits.

Administrative assistant to Miller County Judge Carla Jenkins said the centers were helping each other out. However, the city does not receive Arkansas-based 911 services, as these services are provided by the joint PSAP that the city shares with Texarkana, Texas and Bowie County through the Ark-Tex Council of Governments in Bi- State.

The state, acting on the Arkansas Public Safety Act of 2019, is seeking to have Miller County drop its 911 call center and join one operated by Bi-State Justice, as the majority of residents of the county live in the city.

Miller County has a population of approximately 43,572, of which approximately 29,900 are urban dwellers.

The State will make its final decision on the reunification on April 19.

Currently, Miller County and Texarkana receive annual operating funds from the Arkansas 911 Board. Miller County receives about $212,000 and the city about $400,000.

The county is also contributing $214,000 to fully fund and operate its dispatch center.

However, if Miller County did not transfer its 911 operations to Bi-State, the 911 Board could withdraw its annual funding of $212,000. That would require the county to pay the full $426,000 needed to operate its 911 center, which dispatches for 13 public safety organizations.

County Judge Cathy Hardin Harrison, who explained the county’s concerns to the Arkansas 911 board March 12 in Little Rock, said moving the county’s dispatch to Bi-State would more than double the county costs.

“Having to pay $919,282 a year would be paying at least $500,000 more than the county could afford, and that would put Miller County out of business in a year or two,” Harrison said.

At least part of the increase would be needed to hire at least six additional Bi-State employees, according to a memo dated Feb. 28 and submitted by Bi-State Communications Commander Doug Avery.

Following her meeting with the 911 board, Harrison said she believes she left board members with a better understanding of the financial danger of the consolidation plan.

In a conversation with the Gazette last week, Arkansas 911 Executive Council Director CJ Engel said that if the council plans to resolve the Miller County case at the April 19 meeting, it could delay action to further examine the county’s financial problems.

On March 21, the board submitted a Miller County PSAP Consolidation Executive Summary showing four possible options the board could consider. These include —

• allow the county and Arkansas to form a common PSAP outside the Bi-state;

• having the county join the Arkansas side of the existing bi-state Consolidated PSAP, which would net the county a prize of $919,000;

• approve the county’s request to keep bi-state and county PSAPs separate; Where

• Denying the county’s request to continue funding its PSAP and the Bi-State PSAP, which would cost the county approximately $426,000.

If the board votes for Miller County to consolidate, Engel said the county will have until Jan. 1, 2023, to submit a consolidation plan. From there, the county would then have until the end of 2025 to consolidate.

Texarkanas and Bowie County each pay about $1.1 million a year to operate bistate communications. If Miller County were to join, the three would see their annual cost drop to around $919,000. The cost represents a quarterly breakdown of what would be needed for operations, or about $3.7 million, compared to the roughly $3.4 million that the agency trio collectively currently pays.

According to the Bi-State Communications Center memo, bringing Miller County’s 911 dispatch to Bi-State would require hiring at least three additional data entry clerks, another call taker and two more dispatchers. The Bi-State Law Enforcement Advisory Committee and Intergovernmental Advisory Committee are expected to approve the additional personnel.

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