The new Franklin County Communications Center is open, moving the dispatch center out of a stuffed room in the sheriff’s department and into its own headquarters.
While located across the street from the sheriff’s office, the communications center is now a separate county entity with its own budget, leadership and building.
“We now have our own professional space,” said Stan Wheeler, director of the communications center.
Callers reporting non-emergencies now should call 778-6140. The previous number, 778-2680, directs callers to the sheriff’s department and should be used to call the department for all reasons other than reporting a non-emergency.
The move originally was intended to happen last April, but the contract between the state and Fairpoint Communications, which runs the new 911 system, took a year longer than anticipated to finish.
During the switch, the dispatch center went offline at 6 a.m. with calls forwarded to Augusta and transferred to Franklin County as needed. Wheeler said the transition went smoothly, with no technical problems.
The system was put in place by Fairpoint, with technical help from Somerset County; the state; Hussy Communications, the county’s radio vendor; and Acorn Recording, the recording service for all dispatch calls.
The dispatchers are using a new call system that better tracks where cellphone calls are coming from. Wheeler said future possibilities under the new system include texting 911 or sending photo or video to dispatchers, but he said it would be “way, way down the road” before any of those features could be considered.
An additional benefit of the new space, Wheeler said, is that it is a secure building with safety features such as higher, barred windows and thick walls.
The new $600,000 dispatch center was the subject of lengthy debate before it was narrowly approved in 2012 by a 2,062-2,035 vote by county residents. It was the second attempt by county officials to get a new space for the center, with the first one failing in 2010.
The 2,200-square-foot building, completed last April, houses the new county department, which includes a director, a supervisor and nine dispatchers. Wheeler said the agency hopes to hire a second supervisor by July.
While the county budget won’t be finalized until June, Wheeler has proposed a $887,120 budget for the center, though he said it includes several rough estimates of expenses that previously had been shared with the sheriff’s department.
The proposed budget includes $4,500 for training, or $1,000 more than the year before, because dispatchers need more than state minimum standards for training in order to be prepared, Wheeler said.
Sheriff Scott Nichols previously said that his department has overgrown its portion of the building, and the deputies are looking forward to expanding into the room that the dispatch center had occupied. Before Nichols’ election in 2012, the former sheriff Dennis Pike had worked from his home across the street, saying it was too crowded in the department.
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