Surry supervisors may create new dispatch office

Published 11:53 am Wednesday, October 11, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

SURRY — For years, Surry County’s emergency dispatch center has operated under two managers: the county sheriff, and an emergency communications manager employed by the county.

The Board of Supervisors is now looking to change that.

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At a recent work session, the Surry County Board of Supervisors discussed cutting the sheriff’s control of the dispatch center, and moving the operation over to a new Emergency Operations Center currently being planned for the county.

“I don’t think you can have two managers,” said Emergency Services Coordinator Ray Phelps in a presentation to the Board regarding the dispatch center. “You can’t. It just doesn’t work.” {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Surry County Sheriff Carlos Turner has spoken against moving the dispatch center out of the sheriff’s office, addressing the Board at its September meeting and sharing a letter with a list of concerns such a move might have.

Turner said he was also taken aback that the county had never consulted with him about the possible relocation of the center.

Currently, the E-911 equipment in the communications center is owned by the county, while the dispatchers are employed under the sheriff’s office.

Two prior sheriffs had signed a memorandum of understanding with the county outlining dual management of the system between both parties.

Since being elected, however, Turner has refused to sign the MOU, claiming that county administration had failed to address concerns he and his dispatchers have had with the county’s portion of management of the system.

Surry District Supervisor John Seward said at the work session Thursday, Sept. 28, that the operation of the dispatch center has had a tendency to change with each new sheriff elected in the county, likening it to a “roller coaster ride” of differing personalities.

“Dispatch doesn’t need to be changing like that,” said Seward. “It needs to be on a steady course and not subject to the changes that an election can bring.”

One problem with moving dispatch out from under the sheriff is a loss of funding from the State Compensation Board, which currently pays for four of the center’s nine dispatchers. That funding will be cut should they no longer work under the sheriff, who is a constitutional officer.

The other five employees are paid for with local funds, according to County Administrator Tyrone Franklin.

“We’ve been talking about losing this [compensation] board funding for over ten years, it’s just time to do it,” said Seward.

If cut, the county would have to budget for funding all of the dispatchers, Dendron District Supervisor Michael Drewry said.

Phelps said that the current management of the dispatch center makes it difficult for him to do his job.

“My job is to make sure that the EOC … is ready 24/7, but I sort of have to ask for permission to go where I need to go to make that happen,” he said to the Board.

Phelps referenced a study the Board had commissioned back in 2007 that also recommended relocating the emergency communication center out of the sheriff’s office due to “inconsistencies.”

“Here we are ten years later, we’re still experiencing the same problems,” Phelps said.

The new emergency operations center is slated to go along with the new Rescue Squad facility, to be located in the county’s industrial park. The new location would also be outside of the Surry Nuclear Power Station’s 10-mile emergency radius, according to Phelps.

Turner said that dispatchers monitor security cameras, alarms and make activity reports on inmates at the sheriff’s office 24 hours a day, services that would be lost should the relocation take place.

Turner also said that personal contact will be lost between dispatchers and the community.

“This could deteriorate the community relationships,” he said in his letter to the Board.

 Phelps said at the work session that that’s not the roll of a dispatcher.

“The job of a dispatcher is to stay in a booth and answer the phone,” Phelps said.  {/mprestriction}