By MELISSA JENSEN
Imagine you are the victim of a crime.
That’s the mindset Missoula County Sheriff Mike McMeekin asks of anyone taking a tour of the current home of his department.
He wants voters to imagine the short, narrow lobby where a victim would sit and wait to be interviewed. He wants them to visualize recounting the crime at a small table, in a tiny corner room that also houses rows of file cabinets that have no where else to go.
“All we’re trying to do is get people information. We want them to make up their own minds,” said McMeekin.
The tours are part of an effort by several county agencies to inform voters of a bond measure they’ll see on their November ballot. The bond would generate $16 million of the $23.5 million needed to build a new emergency operations center. The cost for a resident with a home valued at $200,000 would be $27.82 per year. The rest of the building cost would come from cash reserves, grants, and other sources available to the county.
The center would bring together the sheriff’s department and 9-1-1 center in a new building that would be constructed next to the county detention center on Mullan Road. It would house a regional training facility and evidence unit, and create a central location from which local authorities would work in times of prolonged emergencies, such as wildfire, natural disaster or community medical crisis.
According to Bob Reid, Missoula County Emergency Services director, “We have really good first responders, but in the end they are only as effective as our ability to get them to you.”
That is one of the main reasons Reid sees this center as a necessity, after watching the effects the job and working environment have on his staff. Dispatchers currently work in a basement room with no natural light. During 12-hour shifts, they’ll take calls on everything from a fender bender to a baby in distress.
The 9-1-1 center has lost a third of its dispatchers since January. Calls for service, though, aren’t going away. They go up an average three percent every year, said Reid. In 2007, there were 160,000 calls to the 9-1-1 center, resulting in 120,000 dispatches for services.
Tours of the building continue up until the election. They are every Tuesday at noon and every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. The tour begins at the information desk on the first floor of the county courthouse. More information is available at the county Web site.