The Kenai Peninsula Borough is working to complete the transition of its emergency dispatch center from being staffed partially by state employees to fully by borough employees.
Legislation approved by the assembly during their June 15 meeting authorized Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce to execute agreements with agencies and nonprofit organizations who benefit from services provided by the Soldotna Public Safety Communications Center, or SPSCC. Among the agencies described by the legislation are the Moose Pass Volunteer Fire Company, Hope Sunrise Emergency Services, Inc., the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the Alaska Department of Corrections.
The SPSCC has been jointly operated by the borough and by the Alaska Department of Public Safety (DPS) for more than 30 years, with employees roughly split between borough and state affiliations. The center was initially located at the Alaska State Troopers E Detachment Headquarters in Soldotna before moving to the Emergency Operations Center, also in Soldotna, in 2007.
Efforts to shift the center to being entirely borough-run began after DPS in 2019 said they would be changing the services they offered through the SPSCC. DPS stopped filling vacant state positions at the center, which resulted in higher overtime costs for the borough that DPS was obligated to pay under the existing agreement.
The borough told DPS in February of 2020 that they would withdraw from the agreement effective June 30, 2021 with the intent of negotiating the transition to all borough staff in the interim. As part of that transition process, the borough conducted an audit of what services SPSCC provided to state agencies, borough fire and emergency medical service areas, private volunteer fire and emergency medical services organizations, among others.
A new agreement between DPS and the borough was successfully negotiated earlier this year and was unanimously ratified by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly during their May 4 meeting. Under that agreement, the borough will take and dispatch DPS emergency calls for a fee, fully staff SPSCC with borough employees and execute separate agreements with individual borough agencies for services.
Absent from the legislation is the City of Soldotna, which was removed via an amendment that cited ongoing negotiations between the city and the borough.
In a June 11 letter to Pierce, Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen said there are “significant differences” in the language of the agreement Soldotna received from the borough and what Soldotna would consider “minimally acceptable.” Noting that the legislation would be up for consideration by the borough assembly during their June 15 meeting, Queen said that the city would not sign the agreement as presented.
“I am hopeful we can continue working cooperatively to resolve the outstanding issues, and reach a long‐term solution that is mutually beneficial,” Queen wrote. “I am available [to] meet and discuss this in detail, at your convenience.”
Queen also said $350,000 for dispatch service fees in FY22 was included in Soldotna’s FY22/FY23 Biennial Operating Budget, which was approved by the Soldotna City Council earlier this month. FY22 begins on July 1, 2021 and ends on June 30, 2022. While Soldotna and the borough continue to work out an agreement, Queen wrote, the city intends to pay the borough the amount approved in the city budget according to a previously outlined quarterly schedule.
Queen said Tuesday that she has not yet met with Pierce or his staff to discuss the remaining items but that she hopes to in the next week or two.
More information about the SPSCC can be found on the borough’s website at kpb.us.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.