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Commissioners: Dispatch center consolidation expected in coming years

Daily Inter Lake | November 16, 2021 7:00 AM

Commissioners said last week that they expect to consolidate the county’s various dispatch services within three to five years.

Officials have dealt with resident complaints about the delay in transferring calls between the region’s disparate dispatches as well as the mounting expense of running multiple operations simultaneously. While consolidation seems an easy fix, concerns over communication disruptions caused by the county’s topography and resistance from the community boards that oversee the dispatch districts have combined to make for tough negotiations.

County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) noted the opposition to consolidation while laying out his timeline during a Nov. 10 meeting with Bull Lake resident Kimberly Mole. Mole has long lobbied officials to address Troy Area Dispatch, which must transfer law enforcement-involved emergency calls coming from nearby county residents to a separate dispatch center.

“I talked to the Troy [Area Dispatch Board] members and said this is where I’m at and this is what I see needs to happen,” he told Mole during a Lincoln County Board of Commissioners meeting. “They weren’t happy.”

Their main fear, he said, was that the county would toss the Troy Area Dispatch to the wind. He said he has sought to alleviate that worry.

“Their biggest concern was that we were going to take an axe and chop it off and that’s not going to happen,” Bennett said of the dispatch board.

Mole stressed that a single, consolidated dispatch center would improve efficiency and bolster safety for first responders. She began pushing for reform of the Troy Area Dispatch after making a 911 call during an attempted break-in on her property. To her surprise, she learned that personnel in Troy had to first transfer her to a different dispatch center to handle law enforcement calls outside of city limits.

While safety and response time were her primary concern, she also argued that as a county resident near Troy, she paid taxes toward multiple dispatch centers.

“Why are Troy District county residents paying for two dispatches, especially when one isn’t benefitting us,” she asked commissioners.

Bennett agreed, saying that the cost of superfluous dispatch centers unnecessarily burdened taxpayers.

“The last time I met with a couple of the Troy District folks from the [dispatch] board, I basically said to them that we are on a three to five year plan to go to one dispatch center and there is a couple of reasons for that,” Bennett said. “The biggest one is we’re spending $400,000 — the taxpayers are — that they don’t need to be spending. That district was put into place because there was nothing else available at the time.”

He pointed to the ongoing effort to plan for a new county detention center. Given the potential cost to taxpayers — early estimates have put a new law enforcement facility at about $20 million — residents likely will appreciate no longer paying for multiple dispatch services.

In recent years, Bennett said the county has erected more communication towers to aid first responders. County staff was working to secure special use permits from the U.S. Forest Service to bolster the communications system further, he said.

Still, Bennett encouraged Mole to stay on top of him and his colleagues. Government moves slowly, he warned, a double-edged sword depending on the situation, he said.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt to keep us accountable, because it’s always the tyranny of the urgent,” Bennett said.