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911 Officials, Shumlin Administration Squabble Over Budget Cut

The Shumlin administration chided the state's Enhanced 911 (E911) officials today after the head of the state's 911 system publicly announced that Vermont's Department of Public Safety is going to stop fielding 911 calls.

According to a press release from Gov. Peter Shumlin's office, the E911 officials' announcement was an "attempt to misled [sic] the media and public" and "is completely outrageous and underhanded."

The release from Shumlin's office said that the Department of Public Safety and E911 officials are in the middle of discussions about a potential $90,000 funding cut for the call centers.

"Those discussions are ongoing and no decision has been made," the release said.

The full text of the release is below:

A press release from the E-911 Board stating that the Department of Public Safety “will not be continuing to participate in the statewide 911 call taking system” is false. No decision has been made. Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson issued the following statement on the inaccurate press release issued this morning. “No decision has been made surrounding the participation of the Department of Public Safety in the statewide 9-1-1 call taking system. The attempt to misled the media and public is completely outrageous and under-handed.” Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn has been meeting with E911 Board Chair Gary Taylor after Taylor and the E911 board recently notified the DPS that funding for call taking services will be cut by $90,000. Public safety answering points operated by the state of Vermont field 75% of all 911 calls in the state, and despite the funding cut, would be expected by the 911 board to maintain that call volume. Taylor said there is no plan to cut funding to other call centers that field the remaining 25% of 911 calls in Vermont. As part of the process of ensuring taxpayer dollars are best utilized to maximize emergency services, discussion between DPS, the Agency of Administration, and the E-911 Board have been occurring to determine the best path forward. Those discussion are ongoing and no decision has been made. “It is concerning that the President and Vice-President of the 911 board chose to use such tactics to misled the press and public about a decision that has not been made,” Flynn said.

Original Story 12:29 p.m. The Vermont Department of Public Safety, which handles most of the state's E911 calls, will no longer accept them beginning next year, according to an announcement from the state’s Enhanced 911 (E911) board.

A spokesman for Gov. Peter Shumlin said on Twitter that the department has not yet made that decision, adding that the department plans to release more information shortly.

The board says it was told by Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn that his department plans to stop taking the calls on July 1, 2017.

“We are disappointed by the commissioner’s decision to end 911 call handling services at the Department of Public Safety,” E911 board chairman Gary Taylor said in a statement.

Barb Neal, the executive director of the state’s E911 system, said the Department of Public Safety operates two of Vermont’s six emergency call centers and handles 73 percent of the state’s 911 calls. The other four call centers are operated at the local or regional level.

Neal said it is too soon to know how the state will handle 911 calls after the department shuts down its call centers.

“I am working on some options to put together for the board to consider on how to handle call handling services going forward,” she said. “So we’ve already had conversations with those existing regional facilities about how they might want to participate differently moving forward, and I’m aware of conversations that have happened with communications centers that aren’t currently 911 public safety answering points.”

All of the state’s call centers are funded by an annual stipend from the board equivalent to $45,000 for each dispatcher workstation, Neal said.

Neal said she was not a party to the conversation in which Flynn told the board that the Department of Public Safety call centers are closing, and she doesn’t know why the department decided to stop taking 911 calls.

Flynn’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday morning.

Update 12:42 p.m. Scott Coriell, a spokesman for Gov. Peter Shumlin, said on Twitter that claims the department will stop taking 911 calls are "not true."

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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