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Lea eyeing consolidation of 911 center

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LOVINGTON — A fully consolidated emergency 911 center for Lea County appears on the horizon, looking at Jan. 10, 2022 for implementation.

All that’s left is for just about everybody else to approve it.

The board of county commissioners on Thursday gave unanimous nods individually to a total of eight resolutions aimed at expanding emergency dispatch for police, fire and EMS personnel through the Lea County Communication Authority.

The first five resolutions call for agreements with each of the county’s incorporated municipalities — Hobbs, Eunice, Lovington, Tatum and Jal.

None of those agreements is final until after each town’s governing body, the LCCA’s board of directors and the State of New Mexico approve it.

Three more resolutions, actually designed to improve recruitment and retention of employees by increasing salaries in many county departments, upped compensation for dispatchers who may transfer from any municipality’s dispatch center to county employment, recognizing any seniority they already have.

Several other departments’ employees enjoyed the increased salary ranges as well, at an average of 26.1 percent over their current salaries and benefits, to take effect in the next pay period.

The City of Hobbs partnered with Lea County in June 2011 to form the LCCA through a joint powers agreement. With 16 dispatchers from the Hobbs police department and nine from the county sheriff’s office, the two entities decided to split the cost of operating and maintaining the LCCA evenly, in a 50-50 split.

“When the county first took this on,” said County Manager Mike Gallagher, “the idea was to improve public safety for all of Lea County.”

After more than 10 years, most of the other communities now are amenable to joining LCCA which already receives all 911 calls from anywhere in the county. Gallagher pointed out the major concern is the time lost while an LCCA dispatcher gathers information from a caller and has to relay that information to a town’s dispatcher before it goes to first responders.

Gallagher said the LCCA, which still has only 25 dispatch positions, will need 10-12 more dispatchers to cover the entire county. Although the population of the county has increased by almost 10,000 since 2010, the number of dispatchers has remained the same.

Costs of dispatching for those municipalities vary, but Lea County plans to foot those bills when those cities join the LCCA.

The first resolution would amend the joint powers agreement with Hobbs to clarify the city still pays only half the traditional costs, with annual adjustments for while the county pays its 50 percent plus costs of dispatching for other communities.

Citing an average cost of $3 million to administer and operate the dispatch center, the resolution proposes Hobbs’ portion be set at a maximum of $1.5 million or 50 percent, whichever is less for this fiscal year. All costs over $3 million will be paid by the county.

The maximum annual amount to be paid by the City of Hobbs would be adjusted annually beginning in fiscal year 2022-2023 by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), All Urban Consumers, US City Average, All Items less Food and Energy. The City of Hobbs, unless approved by the LCCA Governing Board, will be responsible for any expenses incurred at the sole request of the City of Hobbs or its departments.

The next four resolutions individually provide for an agreement with Eunice, Jal, Lovington and Tatum, all noting the county’s payment for costs except additional equipment desired by the community.

According to the county manager, the LCCA will need to hire four additional dispatchers to serve the City of Eunice. The approximate cost of Eunice joining LCCA is estimated at $400,000, and the county will cover that cost.

To handle dispatching for the City of Jal, Gallagher estimated two additional dispatchers will be needed and the approximate cost to the county will be $163,000.

Addition of Lovington to LCCA’s dispatch responsibilities will require hiring six more dispatchers. The cost to Lea County to add the county’s seat is estimated at $603,000.

No additional costs or dispatchers are anticipated in adding the Town of Tatum to the system, except for putting the town on the computer assisted dispatch system.

After the commissioners, in the absence of Commissioner Pat Sims, unanimously approved each resolution related to the communities joining LCCA, County Human Resources Director Craig Bova proposed modifying the county’s policy for recruitment and retention, recognizing years of service municipal dispatchers have accumulated if they choose to apply for employment at the LCCA.

As an example, Bova said, in addition to increases in annual leave and sick leave, the longevity pay for a dispatcher who has 16 years experience with a municipality, after a year with the county, would be $3,840, rather than the $240 normally paid for one year employment for Lea County.

Other resolutions increased salary ranges and salaries for specific job titles in the sheriff’s office, detention center, road department, environmental department, DWI/compliance department, LCCA and airport department.

With the changes, salaries and benefits went from a total of about $18.6 million to $23.4 million, an increase of 26.1 percent.

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