Combined dispatch gets green light

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Falls News staff

SHEBOYGAN – After decades of studies, proposals, discussions, committees and stops and starts, combined emergency dispatch for Sheboygan County now has a timetable and an estimated time of arrival.

During a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15, the Sheboygan County Board, by a vote of 15-9, approved an agreement with the city of Sheboygan to combine dispatch operations by the end of 2015.

Under the agreement, all costs of operating the combined dispatch center will be shifted to the county tax roll and will cost taxpayers outside the city of Sheboygan more – a projected $37.62 per year in taxes on the owner of a property with an equalized value of $150,000, according to the agreement.

In exchange, the city will pay up to $2.5 million toward the cost of remodeling the county’s Law Enforcement Center to house the combined dispatch center and will turn over all operations of emergency dispatch to the county Sheriff’s Department.

All nine of the votes against the resolution accepting the agreement came from supervisors representing districts outside the city of Sheboygan. Joining the 11 city supervisors in voting for the resolution were supervisors Keith Abler, Thomas Wegner, Peggy Feider and Brian Hoffmann. Supervisor Richard Bemis was absent.

Several of the supervisors who voted no emphasized that they were not against the concept of joint dispatch, but objected to the distribution of costs among county taxpayers.

“I don’t have a problem with combined dispatch; I have a problem with this agreement,” Supervisor Michael Ogea stated.

Supervisor Devin LeMahieu termed the agreement “a tax shift.

“Well over half the (911) calls are going to come from the city of Sheboygan. They have 42 percent of the residents paying only 27 percent of the cost,” LeMahieu pointed out.

“If combined dispatch is passed, the taxpayers outside the city (of Sheboygan) will have to pay more than double for the same service and response,” Supervisor Thomas Epping noted.

He commented that the best time to implement combined dispatch would have been in 1980 when the county built the Law Enforcement Center, but city of Sheboygan officials were not willing to go along with the proposal at that time.

Epping also expressed concern that the county will be facing another major expense, perhaps $8 million or more, in another five years or so to replace the countywide emergency radio system.

“One of my duties is not to add any cost to the burden (my constituents) already have,” Epping stated.

“I’m not enthusiastic about the county taking on additional responsibilities and additional costs,” County Administrator Adam Payne conceded. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” for supervisors representing rural districts and for a county administrator concerned with balancing the budget, he added.

“However, when I look at the upside, I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do,” Payne added. “If we’re under one roof, we absolutely will gain efficiencies. I think long-term, in my humble opinion, there will be more efficiencies.”

Gary Maples of Sheboygan Falls, who served on several study committees that recommended joint dispatch, outlined some of the upsides to the concept, calling it, “the best way to provide emergency service response to all citizens of the county.

“There are limited emergency resources in the county. The more co-ordinated those emergency resources are used, the better the chance you will get faster and more efficient response. Ask yourself what is best for all of the county, not necessarily just for your constituents,” Maples told the supervisors.

Maples said having emergency dispatchers all in one room, under one supervision, would lead to better situational awareness in emergency situations, which leads to better understanding and more coordinated response to major events.

He pointed out that 75 percent of the counties in the state have gone to a combined dispatch system.

“All I’ve been hearing about is money. We’re forgetting about life,” Supervisor Charles Conrardy commented. “We’ve got people who are going to die because we don’t have the best system we could have. You pool money so you can take care of everybody, not one group or another.”

The agreement – which still must be ratified by the Sheboygan City Council – lays out a timetable which has the new combined center completed and operational by the end of 2015.

Supervisor William Goehring expressed concern that increasing the levy to cover the additional cost would lead to cuts in other areas, such as human services.

Payne replied that state offi- cials and legislators have indicated it will allow the county to exceed state-mandated property tax levy limits if the purpose is to combine government services, such as combined dispatch.

The administrator went through a history of the discussions and negotiations on joint dispatch between the city and the county, going back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. He noted that as long ago as 1999 there had been a recommendation from an outside consultant for combined dispatch.

Much of the increased cost for combined dispatch will be for increased management and supervision, Payne noted. He added that the additional supervision will be necessary for both the city and the county even if they maintain separate dispatch centers, which would increase costs to taxpayers.

He cited figures showing that the average cost for fire insurance on a $150,000 home is roughly $600 a year, while the cost of combined emergency dispatch would be $37.50 a year for the same home.

For residents outside the city of Sheboygan, the increase in taxes for combined dispatch will be $20.25 for a $150,000 home.

In other action, the board:

. Approved an agreement with the city of Sheboygan for administration of the proposed 1.7-mile multi-purpose trail along the former Union Pacific rail line in the city. The county will purchase the rail line property using state DOT grant funds, develop it in conjunction with the city, and the city will then be responsible for day-to-day maintenance once the trail is complete.

. Approved an across-theboard 2 percent pay increase for non-union county employees.

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