Central Emergency Services staff wait to receive doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Central Emergency Services staff wait to receive doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna, borough to continue 911 dispatch partnership

The assembly approved an agreement Tuesday

The City of Soldotna will continue working with the Kenai Peninsula Borough to provide 911 dispatch services to residents following the approval of a multiyear agreement by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday. The agreement comes after months of negotiations between the two entities over how much Soldotna should pay for services under a new fee structure implemented by the borough.

The Soldotna Public Safety Communications Center, located near the Soldotna Safeway, has been operated by the borough and by the Alaska Department of Public Safety for more than 30 years, with employees split between borough and state affiliations. That changed last year, when the borough phased out state employees and made the center entirely borough-run.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce and assembly member Tyson Cox both celebrated the agreement during a Tuesday meeting of the assembly’s Policies and Procedures Committee.

Under the agreement approved by assembly members Tuesday, the City of Soldotna will pay about $483,000 for dispatch services for the current fiscal year, which began on July 1 and ends on June 30, 2023. In subsequent fiscal years, the city’s fee will be adjusted for changes to the Urban Alaska Consumer Price Index, according to the agreement.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough first implemented a fee-for-service payment model in fiscal year 2022, which began on July 1, 2021, and ended on June 30, 2022

The City of Soldotna initially balked at the price hike when it was presented by the borough. Prior to the last fiscal year, the city paid $150,000 annually for dispatch services. When the borough announced the restructured fees, it proposed the city pay $490,000 annually for services, which the city ultimately negotiated down to $350,000 for fiscal year 2022, which ended in June.

At the time, the borough told the city that the $490,000 figure more accurately reflected what the city should be paying for services. Soldotna City Council members, however, said the city shouldn’t pay for more than its share of services. Soldotna city administrators floated to council members potentially partnering with the City of Kenai for dispatch services, which would have meant breaking off from the borough altogether.

The cities of Kenai, Homer and Seward all have dispatch centers that operate independently of the borough. People in those cities who call 911 from a cellphone are still connected with a borough dispatcher, who must then forward the call to the corresponding local dispatcher.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Emergency Management Coordinator Tammy Goggia-Cockrell said Tuesday that she’s “very pleased” with the agreement approved by the assembly on Tuesday, which she said was the product of collaboration between Soldotna and the borough.

“I believe this agreement benefits the residents of Soldotna, as well as those traveling through the city of Soldotna who may need law enforcement assistance as they travel through,” Goggia-Cockrell said.

Among the agencies dispatched through the communications center in Soldotna, Goggia-Cockrell said, are the Soldotna Police Department, nine borough fire departments, the Alaska State Troopers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service, among others.

Because the City of Soldotna already works with the borough for dispatch services, Goggia-Cockrell said the agreement passed Tuesday will maintain the status quo in terms of services. A key benefit of the City of Soldotna continuing to work with the borough, she said, is the ability of multiple agencies to continue communicating on the same channel.

“The ability to have everyone communicating on the same talk group or radio channel … gives that visibility to law enforcement should Soldotna police officers need assistance and a trooper’s close by,” Goggia-Cockrell said.

The service agreement approved Tuesday can be viewed in full on the borough’s website at kpb.us.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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