Construction season has begun on a state-mandated redesign of Tazewell County’s emergency response system — its structure, government and funding.

It’s an unfunded mandate. The project’s overall cost could exceed $2 million, and decisions on how to pay that have yet to be made.

Morton Police Chief Craig Hilliard serves as chairman of the county’s Emergency Telephone System Board, which oversees the county-wide 911 system and is steering it through its reconstruction.

He answered questions about the issues and process.

Question: Why is there a need to redesign the county’s 911 system?

Answer: In June 2015, Gov. Rauner signed a bill that requires counties under 250,000 in population to consolidate their Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) by 50 percent, or no more than two. We currently have four. The Tazewell/Pekin Consolidated Communications Center (TPCCC) handles 911 calls for the Sheriff’s Department, the Pekin Police Department, and 32 other police, fire and emergency service agencies. East Peoria, Morton and Washington operate their own 911 systems (with Creve Coeur served by East Peoria).

Q: When must this be done?

A: The new system must be up and running by July 2019. We had to submit a plan by this July to the state’s 911 Advisory Board. We did so after the ETSB on June 21 approved the plan produced by Richard Tucker & Associates, an advisory firm we hired in April.

The plan is to consolidate into two PSAPs, one at the TPCCC site in Pekin and one in Morton. The TPCCC site will be expanded and we’ll build an addition to the Morton Police Headquarters for the other.

Q: What’s next?

A: Now we’ll get inter-governmental agreements with the county’s four largest communities to form a governance board that will handle the system’s financial elements and select a director and an operations board that will dictate the policy, procedures and rules for how the two PSAPs will function.

The governance board will recommend how the new system will be financed (by the communities it serves). The operations board will decide how the communities are covered by each PSAP.

Q: How will the plan affect employment within the current 911 systems?

A: The Tucker report calls for 29 telecommunicators and supervisors for 24/7 operations. Under the current system, East Peoria, Washington and Morton telecommunicators serve a dual role. They also work in records, (police department) counter service and other duties. Under the (new) plan that would cease. Those communities would have to hire records people, and that would be an added cost (for them). Final employment numbers have yet to be determined.

Q: Has a final cost been determined?

A: I won’t say it will be $2 million. I won’t give that figure yet. Morton will foot the bill for the construction of the (headquarters) addition, but there will be monthly rent for its use paid by (the communities it serves through) the 911 system. Pekin owns the TPCCC building and collects rent for its use.

Q: When will the process begin on forming the governing and operations boards?

A: The sooner the better.

Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin