Kodiak City Council and Borough working on new agreement to share costs of emergency services dispatch center on island

The rising cost of local emergency dispatch services and how that service is paid for was the priority of a work session between the Kodiak City Council and Kodiak Island Borough Assembly last week on Feb. 28.

Police Chief, Timothy Putney said the Kodiak Police Department handles more than 13,000 emergency phone calls annually, which includes 911 and calls for both of the Borough’s fire departments (Bayside and Women’s Bay). Those numbers are from the last couple years, going back to 2022.

KPD operates and maintains the only dispatch center [Public Safety Answering Point, PSAP] on the island that all local emergency calls go through.

City Manager Mike Tvenge said the costs of operating and maintaining a dispatch center add up.

“We both agree that radios are important and they need service. We’ve got a tower, we’ve got the upgrades to the system, a maintenance agreement…That VHF radio system was over $700,000 and then we have, I think it’s a $45,000 annual agreement with ProComm Alaska,” Tvenge explained.

Tvenge went on to say that he is not suggesting the cost be equally shared between the Borough and City for the cost of the VHS system or other maintenance work. At the work session, managers from both municipalities said they would create a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to cover the cost of the shared equipment.

The City and the Borough also have a Fire and Rescue mutual aid agreement in place, which Tvenge said works great for the community. This stipulates the Kodiak Fire Department will provide aid whenever the Bayside and or Women’s Bay Fire Departments request it.

Another meeting item focused on the E-911 surcharge, which is currently capped at $2 per line each month based on Alaska State Statute 29.35.210. That means that when a local telephone call from a landline or cellphone is made to 911 on Kodiak Island, the Borough collects up to $2 for each call.

In a previous agreement, signed in September of 2018 for a term of three years, the Borough compensated the City for operating and maintaining Kodiak’s 911 system based on the money the Borough collected from the surcharge. But the cost of providing Enhanced 911 services is outpacing the funds coming in from the surcharge.

City Manager Tvenge said in the last three years the city has provided the E911 service, it has seen around a $2 million deficit. Tvenge said the city covers 30% of the call-taking expense such as employees’ salaries. The other 70% of expenses is split in half between the Borough and the City.

“We’ve got to come to some terms here to fund this system differently,” Tvenge stated. “It is going to require an increase in the surcharge or [increase in] contribution from the Borough if we do that. Or the City continues to fund the majority of [911 service].”

Based on state statute, the municipal bodies can increase the surcharge amount but Kodiak voters would have to approve that increase through a ballot initiative.

Instead, Assembly member Ryan Sharratt suggested combining all of Kodiak’s emergency services into one community plan to help cover the expenses of operating a local dispatch center for the island. He says this would also allow for federal funding opportunities.

“I would propose that we actually stand a community communications program together, funded by the residents and augmented by the surcharge that’s collected from the tax, both land and mobile tax. The expenses can be easily divided by the population. If there are X number of residents in the city and X number in the borough, then we have a total. Take the total divided by the residents and there’s your funding mechanism,” Sharratt explained.

Sharratt alluded to FEMA grants and funding available through the State of Alaska emergency communications committee and system that the Kodiak municipalities could look to for potential funding. Another option is to outsource the dispatch center to another emergency services location rather than operating a local center in Kodiak.

The Kodiak City Council and Borough Island Assembly have been discussing this issue for several years. Both municipal managers will look into Sharratt’s suggestion further before the next joint work session; likely by the end of March, 2024.

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