York County commissioners approve third 911 Center audit in two years

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
An employee talks with a co-worker at the York County 911 Center Monday, July 31, 2017. County spokesman Mark Walters and lead training supervisor Roxie Tate talked with the media Monday, Feb. 26 regarding recent problems with the center's paging system. Bill Kalina photo

The York County Commissioners recently approved a comprehensive audit of the 911 Center operations, management and more for $116,800 — the third review of the facility in two years.

Commissioners approved the contract with New Jersey-based IXP Corp., a public safety management services company, during its Wednesday, Jan. 16, meeting. The contract has not yet been signed and a copy was not provided for review.

In total, the audits of the 911 Center — which has had staffing and retention issues for at least a decade — have cost taxpayers $285,825.

"There was a noted need for a much more in-depth look at the operations (of the 911 Center)," said county administrator Mark Derr. IXP has "a lot more experience in operations and management of these facilities."

The meeting agenda states IXP Corp. will provide a "comprehensive examination of the governance, operations, technology and facility needs."

Commissioners didn't have the contract on hand Wednesday, but The York Dispatch has filed a Right-to-Know Law request to obtain it.

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Commissioner Doug Hoke said the decision to approve the contract stemmed from two information sessions with the company's leadership, and although it's a "pretty big-sized chunk of money," it's necessary.

"There's a lot of possibility here to make some improvements and changes that hopefully will help reduce overtime costs and fill positions that we need," he added.

Center's issues: Such struggles are still evident in the center, even though progress has been made.

Although staffing levels are increasing and overtime costs are being cut, the center still only has 61 of 86 budgeted dispatcher positions, and taxpayers still front more than $1 million annually for overtime costs, according to the most recent statistics available.

The more in-depth look into the center's operations was prompted by a separate audit conducted by York-based Business Information Group (BIG) in 2017 — which didn't yield any sort of official documentation, commissioners said.

The August 2017 contract was meant to review operations, staff, budget and communications procedures. The predicted cost was roughly $44,000, but the county only paid $27,000.

That's because the county didn't find it necessary to meet the estimated price tag by paying for all the deliverables listed in the contract, such as a budget analysis and high-level documentation of critical systems and more, said county spokesman Mark Walters.

What the county did get were occasional recommendations made in writing from the contractor — which collectively filled just one page of paper according to the county's response to a Right-to-Know Law request filed by The York Dispatch.

The suggestions from a August 2018 audit of the York County's 911 Center's operational needs conducted by York-based Business Information Group. The audit costed taxpayers more than $27,000.

$27,000 for one page: Although the county only received one page of recommendations, which cited a necessity for better leadership of the center and better system and operational documentation, President Commissioner Susan Byrnes said the contract was worth it.

"I don't think you can judge it just by that it's only one page," she said. "I think we realized (from the results) that we needed a more in-depth, comprehensive study. I do feel that was worth it."

Walters also said there may have been some information that wasn't included in the county's response to the Right-to-Know Law request.

However, under the state law, if information requested doesn't exist, the entity must acknowledge that. If the information does exist but is exempted under the RTK law, the denial must cite the part of the law covering the exemption.

According to its response to the request for documentation about the BIG audit, the county performed "a reasonable search" that produced only the single page of information. One sentence on that page was redacted, and the county cited the section of the RTK law that allowed that exemption.   

Unlike the BIG audit, Byrnes said the county expects to receive official documentation and final report of the IXP Corporation audit.

The first audit approved by the county, although unrelated to the current efforts to analyze operational needs, also was a big financial expense for the county.

The contract, also conducted by BIG beginning in January 2017, provided oversight and assistance with the 911 radio system update project, which was completed in November of that year.

The $27 million upgrade project began in 2013 in response to Congress' order that 911 radio systems switch to the 700 MHz frequency following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

That mandate was announced just five years after the county had completed a major upgrade to its 911 radio system that placed it on T-band frequency. 

The contract with BIG, meant to review the project and finish up work done by several contractors, wasn't to exceed $50,000. But the county eventually paid $114,455.

Representatives from BIG haven't responded to multiple inquiries seeking further details about the company's work for  the county. 

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.