Red Willow County commissioners asked Monday morning that a possible $21,000 increase in law enforcement dispatching fees charged by the City of McCook be spread over two years, rather than "playing catch-up" in one year.
During the commissioners' weekly meeting Monday, Commissioner Steve Downer suggested to McCook Police Chief Ike Brown and City Manager Kurt Fritsch that the county be allowed to pay the increase in dispatching fees for county law enforcement officers proposed by the city -- an increase of $24,000 per year to $45,000 -- over two years, "rather than almost doubling in one year."
Commission Chairman Earl McNutt agreed. "Little jumps are more manageable," he said, reminding Brown and Fritsch that the county's only source of revenue is property taxes. "Increases hit our budget hard," he said.
Brown told commissioners that services for the sheriff's department at the dispatch center account for 15 percent of all services at the dispatch center. Through an agreement with the county, the city provides 24-hour-a-day radio dispatch service, warrant service and a daily log of radio calls. The sheriff's department answers its telephones between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday; phone calls at other times on weekdays, on weekends and during holidays are answered by the city's dispatch center and information is relayed to sheriff's officers on duty.
The county paid the city $1,000 a month for dispatching service until 2006 when the annual fee doubled to $24,000. Brown said that the county currently pays for 8 percent of the total cost of operating the dispatch center, $300,000 annually. "We believe we need to increase the fees" that are charged to the county, he said.
Brown told commissioners that cities that charge counties for dispatching services base that fee either on a percentage of usage or a percentage of population. In McCook and Red Willow County's case, approximately 30 percent of the county's population lives outside McCook and 70 percent of the county's residents live in McCook.
The county would be charged $45,000 annually based upon the usage percent of 15 percent. Charging the county using a percentage of population would mean an annual charge of up to approximately $90,000.
Fritsch recommended that the county and city come to a fundamental agreement on a percentage of usage and then stay on top of possible increases each year, "rather than playing 'catch-up'" with one large figure after several years. "We could go forward from here using that percentage, and use it in our budget preparations each year," Fritsch said.
Hoyt requested a verification of the percentage figure. McNutt sighed, "Leigh's suggestion could be good or bad," fearing the city's final figure might be higher than the original 15 percent.
Fritsch said the city's committee is happy to come back to the commissioners with more precise figures, including the total number of calls for the sheriff's department. He added that, if a two-year span works best for the county, "that's what we'll take to the (city) council."
Brown and Fritsch will return to the commissioners' meeting at 10 a.m., Monday, Aug. 3.
Getting sidetracked from the subject of dispatching fees, discussion turned to the possibility of the county creating and operating its own dispatching center and the quality of service provided by the city's dispatch center.
Hoyt said that, at some point, it may be necessary for the county to operate its own dispatching center. Sheriff Gene Mahon said it "would be silly" for the sheriff's department to have to go to another county for its dispatching services and that it would cost tax payers "a whole lot of money" to operate two dispatch centers in McCook.
Mahon said that he has concerns about the quality of service provided by the dispatch center, citing, for example, a lack of timeliness for teletype messages being relayed to sheriff's officers; Fritsch said he knows of a call to which sheriff's officers did not respond. Mahon admitted that he and Brown need to work together better to improve their communication level to ensure that problems are addressed.
Each side admitted that mistakes happen -- "Both sides may have issues," Fritsch said -- but they also agreed that they need to work together as a team and as partners, and that the lines of communication between the city and county and among law enforcement entities must remain open and clear.