Hope to consider expenses linked to staying on county’s emergency dispatch system

HOPE – While maintaining communications between first responders in Hope and the county’s emergency dispatchers is imperative, the required technology has become quite costly for the northeast Bartholomew County community of 2,100 residents.

“But it’s one of those things for the police department that is a ‘must-have’,” Hope Town Manager Jason Eckart said.

Largest first-responder agencies in Bartholomew County have adopted an updated version of a Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. The current version of CAD allows personnel at the 911 Emergency Operations Center to prioritize and record incident calls, identify the status and location of responders in the field, and effectively dispatch responder personnel.

But Hope’s police and volunteer fire department are on a different operational system that Hope Town Marshal Matt Tallent said “doesn’t co-mingle very well with others.”

A CAD system requires portable computers, and the Hope Police Department was down to only one operational laptop. Eckart said. Tallent told the council he has been attempting to obtain new laptops through the 911 Center for a lengthy period of time.

When Eckart recently met with center director Todd Noblitt and Bartholomew County Information Technology Director Scott Mayes, the county officials agreed to temporarily supply the town with two additional laptops, Eckart said.

But the expense of a long-term and permanent solution is, as Eckart puts it, “pretty lofty.”

The cost of obtaining laptops for each patrol car in Hope is $8,500, while programming each computer with CAD is an additional $2,500, Eckart said. After that, the town would have to pay $7,000 a year for annual updates and licensing fees, he said.

The town manager also asked for an additional $1,900 for a laptop programmed with CAD for the Hope Volunteer Fire Department. Firefighters have agreed to pay the annual fees themselves, he said.

“So actually, I’m asking for $12,900,” said Eckart, who explained the laptops have a five to six year anticipated life expectancy.

Noblitt and Mayes have spent a considerable amount of time working on a new memorandum of understanding, and the amounts being requested from the town of Hope are the same that every first-responder agency in Bartholomew County is paying for CAD, Eckart said.

Nevertheless, most council members seemed uneasy about the high cost during their Tuesday meeting.

“I know it hurts, but it’s one of those things that if we are going to have an operational police department, we are unfortunately being forced to pay,” Eckart said.

“We want to stay on Bartholomew County’s dispatching system,” Tallent said. He also stressed the fire department need the same CAD technology that his officers require.

The town has sufficient funds to pay about half the required costs through the town’s public safety fund, Hope Clerk-Treasurer Diane Burton. But other funding would have to be secured for the remaining half through other sources, she said.

Eckart said he’s unaware of any current grant opportunities that would help ease the financial burden. Nevertheless, council members asked him to continue looking for half the required funds through foundations and other philanthropic organizations.

Some council members suggested that Shannon Cooke, director of Bartholomew County Emergency Management, might be a good resource since she has been successful in acquiring grants for rural first-responder groups. Eckart was also asked to seek the assistance of Administrative Resources Association in Columbus, which works to secure grants for member communities like Hope.

The council voted unanimously to accept the request outlined by the town manager. But since a final draft of the memorandum is pending and funding opportunities are being sought, the council stipulated their decision is subject to review.