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Council members balk at emergency phone system

February 27, 2013
Hoping to implement a phone messenger service that, among other things, would warn residents of inclement weather, Crawford County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Shawn Scott requested the Crawford County Council allow him to use $1,050 already set aside for such a program.

The council, expressing numerous concerns, including with how the money can be spent, tabled the request.

Scott, who also is a member of the Crawford County Community School Corp. Board of Trustees, told the council at its Feb. 12 meeting at the judicial complex in English the service would be similar to that of the school, where persons who have signed up receive recorded messages for things like school closings.

He envisioned the county's service delivering emergency messages, such as severe weather alerts.

"This is just an additional thing that I saw that was out there that could enhance that notification," he said, adding it could also be used for public reminders, such as property tax due dates, and boil water advisories.

The same company that implements the school's message service has agreed to oversee the county's at a lesser cost of $1.50 per household since it wouldn't be utilized as much, Scott said. A household could include multiple lines — a family's landline, cell phones and business phones would all be considered one household, he said.

"I'd like to start with this money that already exists, which I compute to be up to around 700 households," Scott said, noting other households could be added later.

Councilman Steve Bartels said he thinks it would be a good program but shouldn't be funded with county money.

"I like the program," he said. "I honestly like the program."

Auditor Ricki Hawkins said the $1,050 in the fund is from people who previously signed up for such a program with the county's former Emergency Management Agency director. Neither she nor the current EMA director have a list of who paid.

Council attorney Marcus Burgher IV said using that money for services to other people possibly would be a breach of contract on the county's part, and suggested contacting the former EMA director to see if list exists.

Councilman William Breeding was concerned that residents would receive unwanted calls.

Scott said the service, like the school's, would be voluntary, stressing that only people who signed up would receive calls.

Councilman Joey Robinson said the school's system doesn't deliver calls to everyone at the same time and he is worried that, if the county's service works in the same way, a household may not receive a severe weather alert until it is too late.

"That's what disclosures are for," Scott said, adding the service would just be one more way of notifying people.

"I say we stay out of it," Breeding, who seconded a motion by Bartels to table the request, said.

In another matter, the council voted 4-3 to increase the hourly pay of four full-time emergency medical technicians hired a year ago when the ambulance service added a second 24-hour crew.

County President Jerry Brewer, along with Robinson, Jim Taylor and Sharon Wilson, voted in favor of Emergency Medical Services Director John Gott's request to increase the hourly pay of the four EMTs by 50 cents, while Bartels, Breeding and Doug McLain voted against it.

Gott said the four EMTs were hired in at a lesser hourly rate — $9 for those with basic certification and $9.50 for those with advanced certification — than existing EMTs, who earn $11.33 per hour, with the intent of increasing their pay after a year.

"It saved us about $4,000 per employee per year by starting them out at that lower rate," he said.

Three of the EMTs have become Advanced EMTs since being hired and moved from $9 per hour to $9.50 per hour, Gott said.

Bartels said he would vote against Gott's request because the second 24-hour crew was to be funded solely within the department's budget and money collected through collections for service, and it hasn't been. In addition, he said, a raise should only be given as a reward for improving qualifications, not simply for being on the job for a year.

Randy Gilmore, president of the county board of commissioners and who was in the audience, said the base pay is too low for what EMTs do.

"We're talking about very dedicated workers here, and $9 an hour doesn't feed a family," he said.

In other business, the council:

•Voted 7-0 to provide up to $150,000 for the purchase of two tractors, including one with a boom mower, for the highway department.

Highway superintendent Perry Leonard said the tractors should cost no more than $144,000, but the council allowed extra for extended warranties.

The money will come from the Orange County Riverboat Fund and requires the approval of the county commissioners, as well.

•Voted 7-0 to approve the request of EMA Director Larry Allen for $7,663 to purchase a backup repeater for the county's emergency communications system.

Allen said the repeater, to be purchased from Emergency Radio Services Inc. of Evansville, is needed due to the narrowbanding of radios that was mandated by the federal government. The county's previous backup repeater is no longer useable, he said.

"We've got to have a backup repeater," he said. "That's all there is to it."

•Approved, 7-0, a request of an additional $15,000 for the coroner's office.

Coroner Wayne Bullington said the fire south of English earlier this month that killed five people depleted his autopsy budget.

•Approved, 7-0, to provide funding for an wireless Internet aircard for Bullington so that he can complete and submit reports from his home. The coroner's office does not have space at the judicial complex.

The aircard will cost $30 per month.

The council, however, denied Hawkins' request for another aircard for judicial complex employees to sign out and use at conferences and other times when they are away from their offices.

•Voted 7-0 to approve $5,000 from the Riverboat Contingency Fund for the treasurer's office to outsource the mailing of property tax bills.

Hawkins said Treasurer Kelli Slaughterback, who was not present, said the move will save the office money in part because of being able to mail the bills at a bulk rate.

The commissioners are expected to consider the request.

•Reappointed, 7-0, Sam Swan to the county's Alcohol Beverage Board.

•Approved, 7-0, Burgher's contract as its attorney for 2013. The terms remain the same.

•Voted 7-0 to approve the additional appropriation and transfer requests as presented.

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