County Commission: Big year for search and rescue, 911 dispatch

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ST. GEORGE – Tuesday, the Washington County Commission heard 2014 yearly reports from Washington County Search and Rescue and the St. George Communications Center; approved several requests for funds; and entered into agreements with both the Bureau of Land Management and the City of St. George.

Emergency services/search and rescue

Washington County Undersheriff Bart Bailey gave both the emergency services report and the search and rescue year-in-review presentation to the commission. Due to fall elections and the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, an emergency services report had not been given since October. Bailey recounted 14 search and rescue call-outs since Oct. 23, 2014, nine of which happened in 2015.

In 2014, search and rescue responded to 44 calls for help, Bailey said. Volunteers contributed 2,064 hours for training and 2,249 hours during actual rescue operations, totaling 4,313 hours.

“And just to kind of let you know what kind of a year it’s starting to shape up to be, already in 2015 they’ve responded to nine calls for service,” Bailey said.

“We’re very proud of our search and rescue. They do a great job, put in a lot of hours, and help a lot of people in our community,” he said.

St. George Communications Center

Justin Grenier, assistant manager of the St. George Communications Center, Washington County’s emergency dispatch center, gave a year-in-review presentation for the County Commission. Grenier said the dispatch center monitors every aspect of services provided to county residents.

“Nothing goes untracked, unmonitored or unmeasured,” Grenier said. “You can’t improve things that you don’t inspect. So, we measure everything we possibly can.”

The center tracks how long it takes dispatchers to answer the phone, how long people wait on hold, how long it takes to process a call, how long it takes to handle CPR and more.

The St. George Communications Center handles all emergency calls for Washington County and has fielded a quarter of a million calls over the past few years.

Grenier said the dispatch center is getting three to four wireless calls for every one call from a landline. About 90 percent of 911 calls are answered within five seconds; the national standard is within 10 seconds. The center is one of only three centers in the state that has a full backup dispatch center – a separate facility that can act separately or together with the main facility. The backup facility is used as a training environment as well as being available in case of a disaster or emergency.

Grenier also described the state-of-the-art equipment the dispatch center uses, along with planned future improvements such as better mapping technology, as it becomes available, to help emergency responders locate those who call for help.

Transportation board

The commission approved a resolution to modify the way members are selected to serve on the Specially Funded Transportation Special Service District Control Board.

The Special Service District is separate from the County Commission and was set up to receive federal funds from timber and other natural resources without affecting the county’s payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) funds. PILT funds are federal payments to local governments that help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands within their boundaries.

Special Service District funds are used to build and maintain county roads, County Administrator Dean Cox said. Previously, two board members were appointed and three were elected, Deputy County Attorney Eric Clarke said. With the passage of the resolution, every member will now be appointed by the County Commission.

In recent years, no one has filed to run for the elected positions and the commission has had to appoint board members to fill the terms until the next election cycle. The county has the authority to determine whether board members are elected, appointed or a combination of the two.

“Changing the makeup of the board so that all members are appointed will increase the likelihood of having a full and functioning board,” the resolution states.

Due to federal budget cuts, the Special Service District received only $27,896 this year, half of which goes to the school district. This is a huge cut from last year’s total of $588,768, Cox said.

“The road budget’s tight anyway, so the loss of the SRS (Secure Rural Schools) money could be very impactful,” Cox said.

Officials met with Rep. Chris Stewart last week, and Cox said he is hopeful that Congress will be able to restore part of the difference in funding.

Data sharing agreement

The commission approved a data sharing agreement with the BLM regarding cultural resources on BLM lands within the county. The county recently paid for archaeological surveys on several parcels of BLM-owned land that are being considered for exchange for private property.

The county paid for the surveys in its role as facilitator of land exchanges for the Habitat Conservation Plan. The BLM is required to maintain certain kinds of archaeological information in a secure environment, and the agreement allows the BLM to share some archaeological  information with the county.

Purchase requests approved

  • Emergency Services Department: Payment to Sportsman’s Warehouse for several items including tents, sleeping systems, coolers, cots and other outdoor gear, totaling $22,195.94. Funds for these purchases are covered by grant money.
  • Tourism department: Payment of $22,000 to Certified Folder for distributing advertising brochures.
  • Sheriff’s Office: A blanket purchase order for food and kitchen supplies from Sysco Food Services, $160,000. This amount is expected to cover approximately three months of expenses.
  • Road department: A blanket purchase order for diesel fuel, $50,000. This amount is expected to cover approximately three months of expenses.

Other commission business

  • Updated and approved a five-year interlocal cooperative agreement with St. George City for handling explosive device response (the bomb squad).
  • Made changes to the county’s policy on paid time off for employees, to allow employees who voluntarily work emergency shifts on holidays to be paid or given comp time. Road crews worked long hours on Christmas day, for example, when there was a significant amount of snow in the higher elevations of the county. Under the current policy, these employees were not paid anything extra, Cox said. The changes do not apply to employees who are regularly scheduled on holidays, such as the Sheriff’s Office and Regional Park employees.

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