Officials hope a nearly monthlong interruption in Whitman County’s phone service will soon be resolved, after the county switches to a new carrier.

The problem, which began Oct. 15, prevents people from calling most county offices in Colfax. When they dial a number, there’s dead silence and the call never connects.

Commissioner Art Swannack said more than 370 county phones have been affected — everything from the sheriff and prosecutor’s office to the planning department, elections and the commissioners themselves.

“It’s just been really frustrating,” he said.

The phone service cut out after the county asked its carrier, CenturyLink, to disconnect some unused trunk lines on its account.

“Our IT director was looking at what lines we use and what we don’t use,” Swannack said. “He found some that weren’t being used and asked CenturyLink if there was any need for them. They said no, so we said disconnect them. But it turned out one of them was an anchor line for every phone in the county (government).”

Once the line was disconnected, every county office line in Colfax went dead, he said. Employees could still call out, but incoming calls wouldn’t connect.

“And when we asked them (CenturyLink) to hook the anchor line back up, they told us they needed a four- or five-year contract,” Swannack said.

That didn’t sit well with the commissioners. They asked state Rep. Joe Schmick to get involved. He contacted CenturyLink’s upper management. The county also had one number set up where people could call in and get transferred to the office they needed.

Even before this situation arose, though, IT Director Lance Bishop was looking to switch the whole phone system to an online carrier, Granite Telecommunications, which already provides some internet services for the county.

He thought the company could get the lines hooked back up in a matter of days. He also felt the county would save a significant amount of money with Granite — potentially thousands of dollars each month — and receive better phone options as well, such as caller ID. Consequently, the county decided to move forward with Granite.

Through another miscommunication with CenturyLink, though, it has taken weeks to transfer the phone numbers to the new carrier.

“It’s just been problem after problem,” Swannack said. “It’s frustrating that our citizens haven’t been able to get ahold of us. We had elections going on and people weren’t able to reach the elections office.”

Whitman County Auditor Sandy Jamison said people were still able to reach the office by email, but that wasn’t an ideal solution.

“People are really frustrated,” she said. “I’ve had people stop me on the street to talk about it.”

Based on the last communication he had with Granite, Swannack said he believes the phone lines should be working again soon, possibly as early as today.

“It was supposed to be a quick fix, but it hasn’t been,” he said. “It’s taken flippin’ forever.”

Until the switch-over is complete, people can try to reach county departments by calling (509) 553-8025.

William L. Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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