Rantoul votes to join METCAD

Rantoul votes to join METCAD

RANTOUL — Ralph Caldwell said he was "thrilled to death," and he knew members of the METCAD policy board would share his sentiments.

Caldwell, director of the Metropolitan Computer-Aided Dispatch system, was speaking of this week's Rantoul Village Board vote to apply to join METCAD, which is based in Urbana.

"METCAD as a whole has been talking about this for several years, maybe 30 years, when they formed METCAD," Caldwell said. "It was a big hurdle to get Rantoul to say yes."

A July 2014 target date has been set for the changeover.

Representatives from each of the four main entities represented in METCAD — the University of Illinois, Champaign County, city of Champaign and city of Urbana — will take Rantoul's proposal back to their boards.

Caldwell said he is optimistic the policy board will approve Rantoul's application.

"We've been working on this for two years," he said. "My board's been very supportive of reaching out to Rantoul and bringing them in.

"I can't speak for the board at this point, but they've been very encouraging while we've worked out numbers for Rantoul."

Rantoul has maintained its own emergency dispatch center, independent of METCAD for many years. But Rantoul could not field 911 calls. Those were answered by METCAD and forwarded to Rantoul.

Rantoul's emergency services and Ludlow Fire Protection District, whose calls are dispatched by Rantoul, are the last emergency districts in Champaign County not dispatched by METCAD.

Ludlow Fire Chief Dave Ingleman said last week that his department was waiting to see what happened.

"If they go with METCAD, I'm sure we'd probably have to go with METCAD, too," Ingleman said.

METCAD was formed in 1979, and Champaign County FireCom — Urbana and Champaign and adjacent fire districts — was the last to join, in 1988, Caldwell said.

METCAD begins assembling its budget in December. If the policy board tells Caldwell to begin hiring additional dispatchers, he'll know for sure that Rantoul is a near lock to join METCAD, he said.

He said he is tentatively planning to hire three additional dispatchers.

Under the Rantoul plan, it would continue to employ six dispatchers while continuing to maintain a 24-hour police department. Dispatchers would be assigned other jobs, including possibly evidence-handling work for the police department and file work for the fire department.

Rantoul Mayor Chuck Smith said previously it made economic sense for Rantoul to maintain its own emergency dispatch service in the past, but a study conducted by the police department finds that is no longer the case.

Rantoul police Lt. Jeff Wooten said the study showed the cost to Rantoul would be virtually the same to go with METCAD compared with maintaining its own system.

Rantoul's system is equipped to handle only landline 911 calls. Because the number of landline phones is dwindling, the 911 tax money paid to the village has shrunk as well — from $137,819 in 2000 to $36,625 last year, according to the METCAD 911 Center Consolidation Study.

In the past, those funds had been used to upgrade equipment, but they can't keep up.