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Sheriff's office requests extra $31k for dispatch overhaul

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | September 21, 2021 7:00 AM

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office needs an additional $31,000 for an already pricey project to overhaul local law enforcement’s dispatch and records system.

The request comes more than a year and a half after the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners approved giving the office $848,000 to overhaul its radio, dispatch and records systems. County Commissioner Jerry Bennett (D-2) highlighted the extra charge during a Sept. 15 meeting.

“The sheriff visited me the other day and brought me an invoice on Motorola radios for additional $31,000,” Bennett told fellow commissioners. “I told him I was going to have to ponder that.”

In late 2019, Sheriff Darren Short and then Undersheriff Brad Dodson approached commissioners with an urgent request to fund the overhaul, which they described as much needed. The county’s dispatch system was running on salvaged parts, they said. Meanwhile, the office’s home-built record management software was in danger of no longer working with federal databases.

Short told the commissioners the severity of the situation only became clear after he took the reins as sheriff. He recommended the county stick with communications giant Motorola in order to cut costs. Going with a new vendor would require more work, he said.

Commissioners, while bemoaning the price tag, approved shifting the dollars from the county’s payment in lieu of taxes fund. Better known as PILT funds, the money comes from the federal government to partially reimburse localities for lost property taxes. Commissioners in Lincoln County generally set the money aside as a rainy day fund.

“This is every birthday, Christmas and anniversary for two or three years, at least,” Bennett told Short at the time.

While the sheriff was not on hand last week to discuss the extra expense, County Commissioner Brent Teske said he suspected the dollars were needed to improve communications to a hilltop near Libby’s water treatment plant that then fed into repeaters.

“This must be Motorola’s solution,” he said, flipping through the proposal. “… This microwave shot has always been a complicated issue.”

Teske said in-house fixes had never quite remedied the problem. But it was known, he said. Teske questioned why the problem was reemerging just now.

“I wonder why it wasn’t included in the original,” he asked.

Bennett said he had only had a few minutes to discuss it with Short. He suggested the sheriff’s office draw on its own budget to cover the cost.

“My thoughts are just that they can pay it out of their budget this year,” Bennett said. “I’ll chat with him about that.”

Going forward, Bennett said county officials needed to identify expenses and incorporate them into departmental budgets. The invoice emerged just as the county put the finishing touches on an $11.4 million budget for fiscal year 2022.

“The fact is, we have to search this stuff out and have it included in budgets,” Bennett said.