Keyser to close police dispatch; 911 Center to handle calls

Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
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KEYSER - The Keyser City Council has approved the closure of the Keyser Police Department dispatch, with the Mineral County 911 Center to take over all dispatching duties no later than July 1.

A total of four city employees will be affected by the decision, with one to be transferred to another position within the city, one to be hired by the 911 Center, and two to be given severance packages. All three of the employees not retained by the city were given the opportunity to interview for the 911 Center job, but two of them opted out, according to city administrator Jeff Broadwater.

Broadwater made the recommendation for the Memorandum of Understanding between the city and county, saying the move was necessitated by finances.

“Over the last three years, we’ve averaged a $50,000 loss … that’s a pretty staggering amount,” he said.

“We’re in a tough spot and Luke  and his staff are willing to help,” Broadwater said of Office of Emergency Management/911 director Luke McKenzie.

Calling the Keyser Police Department a “training ground” for qualified officers, Broadwater said the city pays to send new officers to the West Virginia State Police Academy and once they are trained, they take better-paying jobs in other departments.

“It’s not a process we can continue,” he said, noting that the monetary drain on the city results in other areas being neglected.

“We’re not buying any new vehicles, we’re not buying any new equipment, we’re not putting anything in parks and rec. We’re not doing anything but sending people to the academy and they’re moving on,” he said.

McKenzie says the 911 Center, which has always dispatched fire and rescue for Keyser, will be adding to its ranks in order to more easily absorb the Keyser Police dispatching duties into their regular routine.

“We are going to add additional staff and we’re going back to three per shift 24/7,” he said, adding that he feels the merger “will be better for the entire county” as all calls will now be handled at one central location.

To assist in the hiring of the additional county personnel, the City of Keyser will pay the 911 Center what Broadwater described as a “one-time payment of $$70,000.”

After that, the city funds normally used for the dispatchers will be redistributed to help boost other employees’ wages.

“What we pay is almost a disgrace. We can’t keep quality employees,” Broadwater said.

And although he called the elimination of dispatch “a step in the right direction,” Broadwater noted that it is “just the first step.”

Mayor Damon Tillman feels the citizens of Keyser will now get a county-provided service they have already been paying for.

“The citizens were already paying a 911 fee,” he said. “They were paying the fee for the 911 center and they weren’t using it.

“It makes sense for us to do this now … the citizens have paid this fee for years,” he said.

Tillman said he knows the citizens of Keyser will be in good hands with the dispatchers at the 911 Center.

As for the city’s finances, the mayor says Keyser just couldn’t afford it’s own dispatch any longer.

“We have to do what we need to do,” he said. “It’s not fun, but it’s necessary.”

Mineral County sheriff Forrest Ellifritz, who at one time worked as a Keyser PD officer, called it “the right choice at the right time,” and agreed that having the county dispatch all in a centralized location will be a boon to the county’s emergency services.

Keyser PD chief Paul Sabin called the decision “bittersweet,” but noted that it was “a necessary evil.”