Communications center plans halted

By Andy Winemiller -

DOBSON — County commissioners pumped the brakes on a plan to relocate the county’s 911 communications center.

Last week the Surry County Board of Commissioners voted not to move forward with a plan which would have relocated the county’s 911 center from its location on Dobson Church of Christ Road to the human services building in Mount Airy.

“We decided not to accept the bids for the up-fit at the human services building,” said Eddie Harris, chairman of the county board.

The board issued its unanimous vote after a closed session.

Moving the 911 center has been at the top of the priority list for Emergency Services and other officials since at least 2015. That year at the county board’s annual planning retreat, EMS Director John Shelton showed county commissioners drawings of his plan to move the center to the human services building.

A number of concerns regarding the communications center had led Shelton and others to request it be moved. The metal building which houses the center is not rated to withstand high winds. A natural disaster such as a tornado could knock out the center. EMS personnel who are stationed at the Dobson facility are also unable to get any rest due to the operations of the call center.

After the move, the Dobson center would have become the county’s back-up call center, had commissioners moved forward with the plan.

Harris said there may still be life for the project, Monday’s vote to suspend a $316,600 bid to up-fit a portion of the human services building for communications center use is only a postponement of the overall project.

“The bids were very attractive, but we are going to take a fresh look,” explained Harris, who also noted the county has many other capital needs. “The EMS director, sheriff and communications center director will work to come up with a good solution.”

Harris indicated the board’s sudden change in direction was the result of at least one line of funding not coming through.

“We didn’t get some of the grant monies for the up-fit,” explained Harris. “That certainly played a role in the board’s decision.”

Shelton later explained that the county did not receive a grant it had hoped to receive through state 911 funds. The county has missed out on the grant dollars in years prior, but Shelton believed, with counties with greater needs already having been addressed, Surry County’s chances of getting the grant were much greater this year.

In North Carolina, a 911 surcharge is assessed to all phone accounts, including cellular phones. That money is then distributed by the state for the sole purpose of running 911 communications centers.

Shelton said he still believes the 911 board will help fund the move. All necessary equipment is eligible to be funded by such monies. However, the state board and the county will first have to evaluate the county’s needs to ensure the appropriate level of funding is available and pledged to Surry County.

Shelton indicated he will continue to work toward securing funding for the project.

However, in the meantime, the county board took steps to ensure a back-up plan is in place for the county’s 911 communications center.

The board voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with Stokes County. Should Surry County’s 911 center go offline for any reason, 911 calls and dispatching will be routed through the Stokes center. Surry will provide the same service for Stokes County.

“It’s a win-win for both counties,” said County Manager Chris Knopf of the agreement. “The state actually encourages this sort of arrangement between counties.”

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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