Highland News Leader

Highland approves new contract with police dispatchers while complaint over county's 911 consolidation looms

The police station located at 820 Mulberry St. in Highland. Megan Braa mbraa@bnd.com
The police station located at 820 Mulberry St. in Highland. Megan Braa mbraa@bnd.com mbraa@bnd.com

The city of Highland has inked a new one-year deal with its police telecommunicators, despite a recent complaint from a neighboring county that keeping those employees on the city pay roll could be against the law.

The Highland City Council approved two union contracts with the Fraternal Order of Police — one for the sergeants bargaining unit and the other for the telecommunicators.

Highland Police Chief Terry Bell said the contracts provide a 2.5 percent wage increase for both groups. Bell said the short contract length is due to the fact that such negotiations are usually handled by the city's human resources director, a position that is currently unfilled at city hall.

"I thought we might accomplish more next year," Bell said.

Normally, these contracts are active for about three-years, according to Bell.

"They worked with me, and I appreciated that," Bell said.

However, a recent formal complaint filed against Madison County by the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency says that Highland's intent to keep its dispatchers staffed could be against the law.

In 2015, the state mandated that counties to reduce the number of 911 call centers by 50 percent. The law was meant to save costs as the state moves toward Next Generation 911, the federal government's name for technology that allows call centers to receive information like text messages and caller location from smart phones.

Madison County is still one of the counties that has yet to consolidate its operations, though its current plan indicates that seven of its 15 call centers will close. When this happens, Highland's 911 dispatch will got o Collinsville, and then some dispatch centers, including Highland, expect to retain their telecommunicators for other duties unrelated to 911 calls.

"The difference is they may be seeking for us to further consolidate. But, the law is what it is. The law doesn’t require them to do anything more than what they have done,” Bell said.

However, St. Clair County thinks this should not be acceptable, as they tried something similar in their consolidation plan but was eventually rejected by the state, according to the complaint filed by St. Clair County EMA Director Herb Simmons.

“I understand their points, I really do. I think they have some valid points in there,” Bell said.

Bell said that the county's impending 911 consolidation did not play a part in the telecommunicator contract negotiation.

"The only thing they can take from me is my 911. They can’t take my dispatch center away from me. Otherwise, I think they would have done it,” Bell said.

Outside of 911, Bell said his dispatchers work as the City Hall call center after business hours. This means the telecommunicators take calls concerning utility and service problems for each city department. Bell said the calls also include random inquiries, reports of illegally parked cars, wak-ins to the department and other miscellaneous instances.

On average, the telecommunicators take 11,000 calls per year, according to Bell. Normally, one or two dispatchers are on shift at one time. Of the estimated 30 calls a day, Bell said two to three of those calls are 911. So, while Bell said Collinsville has confirmed they can take on the city's 911 load without strain, if Highland were to lose its telecommunicators, the city would have to find someone to take on the extra work.

In addition, Bell said the telecommunicators also operate the department's records management systems, log calls, keep track of maps and state statistics, as well as monitor the city's security cameras.

"They are valued by this community. They are valued by us, and we want to keep that going,” Bell said.

Moving forward, Madison County's overall consolidation plan lies with the Statewide 911 Advisory Board. But, the plan needs to go before an administrative judge before it can be approved, which is set for 11 a.m. May 25 in Springfield at the Illinois Commerce Commission building.

"That’s what the judge is going to refer this to: Are they following the law correctly? What comes out of that, who knows," Bell said.

Other business

Memorial Day activities approved

The council approved a request from American Legion Post 439and Veterans of Foreign War Post 5694. The organizations sought approval for their annual Memorial Day activities. These activities include a parade with the Highland High School band and three short ceremonies at local cemeteries.

The council also approved a funding requests from the organization in the amount of $200. The VFW and Legion give the money to the band every year as a 'thank you' for their participation in the events.

5K approved

The council approved a new race called the Brain Freeze 5K. The event will be on June 23 at 8 a.m., and the race will run around the paths near the Korte Recreation Center.

The race will be used as a fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Association Longest Day event. The fundraiser is normally held on the summer solstice, which is June 21 this year. Participating members and communities select a wellness activity to raise money for the organization.

The race application and sponsorship forms can be found online on the event's Facebook page, or at the Korte Recreation Center.

For more information on the event contact Stacey Howard at(618)-407-1515 or staceyhoward1130@gmail.com.

Master Municipal Clerk

During his staff reports, Latham relayed that Lana Hediger,the city of Highland’s executive assistant and deputy city clerk, has earned the designation of Master Municipal Clerk.

"The designation is something I take great pride in, because I worked so hard for it," Hediger said.

The designation is conferred to Hediger through the International Institute of Municipal Clerks. The organization was founded in 1947, and has 14,000 members throughout the United States, Canada and 15 other countries. The global non-profit tries to enhance education opportunities and professional development of its members, according to a press release from IIMC president Mary J. Kayser.

"The education that this designation represents, makes me much more valuable as a municipal employee," Hediger said.

Kayser said Hediger's new title designation is only granted to those municipal clerks who complete demanding education requirements, and who have a record of significant contributions to their local government, their community and state.

Recently, Hediger was also elected president of the Municipal Clerks of Illinois, a group that works to educate clerks in the state.

Grant funding received

Latham also relayed that the city has received $1.2 million in federal funds for a street scape improvement project on Broadway, according to Latham.

Initially, Latham said the city will focus on revamping the section of Broadway from Poplar Street to Laurel Street.

The plan focuses on installing new sidewalks, American with Disability Act requirements, planting some greenery and installing new street lamps and signage.

"It should look good," Latham said

Once this project is complete, Latham said the city will apply for more funds to improve past Laurel Street.

Latham said the city hopes the improvements will help to enhance the park-like feel around the Square to draw in more business development.

EAV increase

Latham also reported the city's Equalized Assessed Valuation rose more than anticipated last year.

Director of Finance Kelly Korte said recently received the rate-setting EAV used for the 2017 tax levy. Instead of raising by 1 percent, Korte said that EAV rose by 2 percent.

"This increase reflects the fact that property values are growing in Highland," Korte said in a memo to Latham.

Korte said that because of this the tax levy rate for the city and Louis Latzer Memorial Public Library will be decreased.

"The new rate is .96 percent over the prior rate, instead of the 1.93 percent we have requested," Korte said.

Broker request approved

The council approved a motion authorizing a request for proposals for an employee benefit broker for the city.

The city is seeking a broker to preform services related to the design, implementation, maintenance, communication and improvement of the city's group health, dental and life programs, according to the city's Interim Human Resource Director Ann Stoecklin.

Latham said it has been about nine years since the city has looked for a new broker.

Stoecklin relayed that the city has about 109 benefit eligible employees and 14 retirees, two disability workers and no active COBRA participants.

Bid awarded

The council awarded a $64,050 construction contract to Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc. in Highland. The company will work on a project to relocate a 12-inch water main transmission line that runs adjacent to the Trouw Nutrition building, located on Matter Drive, according to the Director of Public Works Joe Gillespie.

Gillespie said this project will be paid for with water funds from fiscal year 2019.

HCS contracts approved

The council approved the renewal of two contracts for Highland Communications Services, the city-owned phone, cable television and Internet company.

The first contract is between HCS and the NTTC, which allows the service to carry One American News (OAN) as part of the A Wealth of Entertainment (AWE) channel. The contract will last through 2027. The HCS Director of Technology and Innovation Angela Imming said the rate for the contract will remain flat for 2018, then increase .005 percent per year.

The second contract allows HCS to carry the Weather Channel. Imming said that this contract provides a reduction in current subscriber costs for the remainder of 2018, then increases by 2 percent for two years only to stabilizes 2021-2027.

Ambulance purchased

The council approved the purchase of a 2018 Braun Ambulance from North Central Emergency Vehicles for $193,723.

EMS Chief Brian Wilson said the vehicle will replace a 16-year-old ambulance with the equivalent of 894,712 miles on it.

"Patients are not happy to see that thing roll up," Wilson said.

The purchase will bring the city a total saving of $38,500, according to Wilson.

Wilson said a portion of the savings is due to the vehicle being a used demonstrator unit and will be purchased the with about 3,900 miles on it, for $5,500 off the new price. The other $33,000 Wilson said is due to the vehicle being a smaller duty chassis, which provides a 15 percent decrease over the city's previous purchases of medium duty chassis ambulances.

Wilson said the ambulance will bring future savings, too, as he plans to reuse the patient module instead of buying a new ambulance, which he said will save about $50,000 to $66,000 when a replacement is needed. Wilson said this is possible because Braun produces a superior project.

"A lot of these boxes can last 40 years," Latham said.

Wilson said the ambulance also has the proper compartments to hold existing equipment, as well as a unique patent to help load oxygen tanks.

The purchase is budgeted for fiscal year 2018-2019 fiscal year. However, the council also voted to allow the purchase be made with funds borrowed from the First Collinsville Bank in Highland at a 2.55 interest rate.

Mayor Joe Michaelis had to break a tied vote. Council members Aaron Schwarz and Rick Frey voted against the decision. Both said that they believed the purchase could be financed in a smarter way, regardless of the attractive interest rate.