Sheriff Seeks Partnership with Cities

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It’s the voice you hear on the phone at the height of distress. It’s an emergency, and the person on the other end of the phone is well-trained, professional and ready to assist. They are Sebastian County 9-1-1 dispatchers, and are the go-between you and emergency service providers.

What happens when these dispatchers are over worked, stretched thin, morale is low and turn over is high?

Unfortunately, that is the current situation within the dispatch center of Sebastian County. “Over the years the dispatch center has gotten busier and busier,” shared Sebastian County Sheriff Hobe Runion. In fact, since 2014, there has been a 20 percent increase in the volume of calls. “We’ve continued to get busier, we’ve got to the point where we’re inundated with traffic.”

Originally, a fee was added to landline phone owners for 9-1-1services. Due to the shift to cell phones, legislators passed HB1564, making financial provisions for 2020. Runion admitted that this will have a positive impact, but cannot say with certainty how much until it goes into affect, January 1, 2020.

“With where we are at now…we are unique in that we have 10 cities and 17 fire departments that we are dispatching for. We are just covered up. We are obligated morally, ethically and legally to dispatch emergency services. We are not obligated to dispatch non- emergency services and calls. We just generally have. We’re glad to be able to do it, but at a certain point and time, it impacts our ability, or could impact our ability, to provide emergency services. That is my concern.”

As a result, Runion is seeking to partner with cities like Barling, Bonanza, Central City, Greenwood, Hackett, Hartford, Huntington, Lavaca, Mansfield and Midland. With this partnership, cities would contribute funds annually based on population to hire two additional full-time dispatchers.

“We just don’t have the revenue in the county…Our county is currently funded through property taxes. And if you live in a city, the vast majority of that goes to them. So, we don’t receive that…”

Runion stated that they will continue to provide emergency services regardless of the willingness of each city. However, without the cooperation of the municipalities, services will be scaled back. “I’m looking at cutting back some of the services we’re providing, and quite honestly a lot of them are services that people take for granted.” For example, if a small town has a police officer working 40 hours, then the other 128 hours a week is covered by the county. Additionally, city police departments currently rely on the county for call forwarding. If no one is available within a city’s department, the call is automatically forwarded to the county. Without an agreement, these and other services would no longer be provided.

Runion stated that he is uncertain about the future of the proposal, noting that three cities have already agreed. He is rallying at city council meetings throughout the month of November trying to drum up support. “The cities have an obligation to their citizens, and if they don’t want to contribute to this, I’m going to have to cut back on some services…we will no longer be able to provide the level of services that they have been accustom too.”

He recognizes that this should have been done in the 1990’s, but it’s not popular. “It’s hard for the sheriff to ask cities for money...But it is what is right for the citizens of Sebastian County and the employees of the dispatch center. I want to partner with the cities, I need help.Incorporated cities have a responsibility to provide a service to their citizens. I feel like them not contributing to this, they are abdocating their responsibility to their citizens.

The proposal seeks the following funding for the dispatch center:
Barling- $14,514
Bonanza- $1,795
Central- $1,567
Greenwood- $27,948
Hackett- $2,535
Hartford- $2,004
Huntington- $1,982
Lavaca- $7,146
Mansfield- $2,257
Midland- $1015

Huntington Mayor Gary Lawrence has declined to support Runion’s proposal, citing lack of city funds.

“I truly want to be a partner to these cities,” concluded Runion, as he vowed to continue working for the citizens of the county.

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Tammy Moore Teague

Tammy Moore Teague

Mansfield native, with roots in Scott County. Daughter, sister, wife and Christian. Education: 1995 MHS graduate; 1999 Arkansas Tech University Graduate - BA in Journalism. Career: Managing Editor - The Citizen; Copy Writer - Southwest Times Record; 20+ years experience in the news.

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