- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A feud over the future of Vermont’s 911 emergency telephone system broke into the open Monday when the officials who manage the system said the Department of Public Safety planned to end its role of answering more than 70 percent of the state’s emergency calls and withdraw from the system next year.

But officials with the board that manages the system said that no matter what happens state residents will be able to call 911 for help.

The administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, was quick to respond to a news release issued by the Enhanced 911 Board with its own release saying no decision had been made to withdraw from the system.

“The attempt to mislead the media and public is completely outrageous and under-handed,” said a Monday statement from Administration Secretary Justin Johnson.

But St. Albans police Chief Gary Taylor, the president of the board that oversees the 911 system, countered that he was “surprised and offended” by the administration’s statement. The board said later in a second press release it stood by its original statement.

Johnson said in an interview that a discussion was underway between the administration and the 911 board about Public Safety’s role in the 911 system but no decisions had been made.

“We’re in the middle of a conversation,” Johnson said. “I think having it via press release is a dumb idea.”

Last year, Vermont’s emergency call system took more than 204,000 calls. More than 143,000 of those calls were answered at a pair of locations run by the Department of Public Safety, in Rockingham and Williston.

Johnson said there is ongoing tension about the finances of the system, which had a budget last year of $4.6 million. The system is funded through a tax on telecommunications services in the state.

E911 Executive Director Barb Neal said that other calls are answered at the Shelburne, St. Albans and Hartford police departments and the Lamoille County sheriff’s office. She said the board will work to ensure that people who call 911 in Vermont will get the help they need.

“My office is putting together a number of options for the board to consider on how we will accommodate this change,” Neal said.

Taylor released emails with Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn and Deputy Commissioner Joe Flynn, who are not related.

“DPS would like to be out of the 911 call-taking business,” Joe Flynn said in a March 23 email to Taylor.

The administration, in its statement, said Keith Flynn had been meeting with Taylor after the E911 Board said that its funding for call-taking services would be cut by $90,000 while the level of service would remain the same.

“Public Safety may have said they want to get out of it and us doing it are two different things,” Johnson said.

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