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Erlanger to Explore Ending Its Dispatch Center

Five years ago, there were three emergency dispatch centers in Kenton County.

Soon there may be just one.

The City of Erlanger discussed this week the possibility of joining the Kenton County dispatch system, following the City of Covington, which ended its independent dispatch operations in 2012.

City Administrator Marc Fields spoke of the benefits at Tuesday's Erlanger city council meeting.

"If we go with the county, they will train all our personnel, they have agreed to hire all our personnel, and (Erlanger dispatch manager) Dave Leonard will be in a position of authority at the county," Fields said. "Plus, our police chief will be on the 911 board. The board will go from seven members to nine members, including our chief and a member of the Fiscal Court. The timing is very important: the equipment has to be ordered, all our data would have to be transferred to their system. If we do this, I can give you all the financial data why it makes sense."

The city is also concerned about its rising pension costs and the forthcoming expense to acquire new digital radios along with the rest of the region, estimated to be $475,000 in Erlanger alone.

Police Chief Tony Wilson agreed with Fields that expenses are rising and the timing to make a decision on the future of dispatch is now.

"The equipment is not getting any cheaper and if we are gearing to make the move, we have to get people trained," said Wilson. "I am not going to say it is inevitable. It will be different. There are still a lot of obstacles, but we have a lot of bright people here."

Questions from council members included whether the county system was as good as the city's. Wilson said that the county was different, and that his officers could adapt.

Councilman Randy Blankenship asked the chief if he would recommend going with the county, and Wilson paused.

"From a financial  standpoint, I don't see how you couldn't go with them," Wilson stated. He said that the change would not jeopardize the safety of Erlanger Police officers.

Additionally, Fields said that businesses in the city would likely see a reduced franchise fee if the city joined the county dispatch system. 

Currently, Erlanger offers dispatch in its own city, as well as in Crescent Springs, where its police officers patrol, and Elsmere. 

Fire Chief Todd Whitaker is also supportive of the change.   

"I believe in the KISS approach: keep it simple, stupid," he said. "The real question is, if John Q Citizen calls for help, can we get there? The answer is, yes. This is the best move for the future, and we have to look ahead. I am confident this is the right thing to do."

Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann was at the meeting, too.

"From a financial standpoint, this is a no-brainer," he said. "I understand wanting to be independent. It's like comfort food. But the culture is different; we are for customer service. If this happens, the county wins. We get Dave Leonard. We will be part of a team of all cities as a group, to have fast and competent service. We are here to serve. And I have been impressed with your chiefs. We need to partner together to make Kenton County stronger."

Fields said that July 1, 2019 is the date that the city should aim for to make the change official.

Councilman Blankenship made a motion to move forward with consolidation talks, and council unanimously agreed.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor