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Joint Dispatch proposal expected to fail

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WORTHINGTON -- After collecting $150,000 in state grant dollars and spending 20 months trying to develop plans for a joint dispatch center to serve six counties of southwest Minnesota, it appears the work may have been for naught.

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Sheriff Kent Wilkening appeared before Nobles County commissioners Tuesday morning to respond to issues surrounding the project, including a letter written by Rock County Sheriff Evan Verbrugge stating he did not support the collaboration.

"I don't even know where to start with this," Wilkening said Tuesday, adding that a project with the potential to be a model for other dispatch centers across the state may go down in defeat while the eyes of the state are watching.

"This is something the state really wants us to look at and they're giving us the opportunity to do this on our own," Wilkening said. "They don't want to see this fail."

In a meeting with state officials last week, Wilkening said he was asked to explain why the counties in southwest Minnesota can't seem to reach agreement on where a joint dispatch center should be located and how it should be funded.

He presented them with two specific issues -- the first being that the initial report by Therkelsen & Associates stated Nobles County should be the host site for a joint dispatch center. That statement turned some counties off of the idea right away, Wilkening said.

The second strike against Nobles County was when its commissioners approved a resolution stating they'd support joint dispatch only if the center was located in Worthington.

"There were too many agendas in this the whole time -- the county and the city -- it just wouldn't work," Wilkening explained. "We had a chance to be a leader in the state and southwest Minnesota and, instead of doing that, we were the bully in this deal. I was told by other county commissioners that they didn't like being bullied by Nobles County, and they really didn't like being bullied by the city of Worthington on this deal."

Commissioner David Benson said he did speak out against the resolution when the vote was taken last spring.

"I thought we were in error in saying that it must be here, and it's coming back to haunt us now," Benson said.

"Everyone wanted to do their own thing and no one wanted to give -- we were part of that, too," added Commissioner Vern Leistico.

Wilkening said the entire issue should have been worked out by county sheriffs sitting down at a table and hammering out the details as provided in the joint dispatch study. Commissioners and administrators should not have been involved in the process until the issues of cost and staffing were resolved, he added.

"People looked at regional dispatch as economic development," Wilkening said. "Bringing a Cabela's or Home Depot to this area is economic development, not dispatch."

Worthington was singled out in the study as the best site because there was already enough space in the Prairie Justice Center to accommodate the additional staffing needs of a multi-county dispatch center. Also, Wilkening said the city has some of the best communication infrastructure of the counties that were involved in the discussion.

Wilkening spoke of the frustrations with Murray County, whose commissioner delegates at one point agreed not to pursue a dispatch center but then voted the very next day in a board meeting to move forward with construction plans.

While he is still convinced that a joint dispatch concept can work, Wilkening said he isn't so sure it will happen in southwest Minnesota.

"I don't know if the state is going to come in and say, 'You're going to do it our way,'" Wilkening said. "They put a lot of money in this for us to move toward this."

The Minnesota State Patrol is in the process of downsizing from seven dispatch centers to three, proving that the process can work.

"We can dispatch from any place in the world with the technology we have," Wilkening said. "Can this be salvaged (here)? I don't know -- I really don't."

Benson said it was disappointing to see the struggle between the counties and cities involved. Yet, he gave kudos to Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre, who wrote the initial grant request for the study and led the counties through the process during the past 20 months.

"I think Kyle Oldre did a good job trying to keep everything going," Benson said. "The enhancements that will be coming will necessitate us working together."

The next joint dispatch meeting is slated for 1 p.m. Monday at the Prairie Justice Center in Worthington.

In other action, the board:

* Completed a swearing-in ceremony for newly elected commissioner Robert Demuth Jr. and re-elected commissioners Benson and Marv Zylstra. Also taking the oath of office were reelected officials, including County Attorney Gordon Moore, Recorder Lynn Wilson, Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Balster and Sheriff Wilkening.

* Agreed to delay plans for a recreational trail in Worthington until 2013 because there are more pressing needs to fund road and bridge repairs in the county during the next two years. Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder said the trail, scheduled to be constructed in 2012, could be pushed back a year to ensure funding is in place for the project.

Meanwhile, Schnieder said three bituminous overlay projects are planned this year, including County State Aid Highways 6, 9 and 14, while CSAH 10 and 35 are scheduled for overlays in 2012. He also has at least two of the county's bridges slated for replacement this year.

* Approved a request from Schnieder to attend the National Association of County Engineer's Conference, which is in Minnesota this year. The conference was not budgeted, but Schnieder said his department can cover the $1,200 cost.

* Approved the Family Services contract renewal with Nobles-Rock Community Health Services for a public health nurse at 32 hours per week; and approved a Family Services contract with Southwestern Mental Health Center for intensive family based services.

* Approved a request to fill the vacant library director position at the Nobles County Library.

* Approved a committee appointment policy after striking from the document the issue of setting term limits. Leistico said there should be term limits on all committees, but was the only one to vote against striking the clause.

* Set the board calendar for the coming year, designated the Daily Globe as the county's official newspaper and the county's website as the official publication, authorized warrant payments, set the 2011 fee schedule, delegated board appointments and approved board operating rules and guidelines.

* Changed to the board's meeting schedule to accommodate conflicts. Changes include moving the Feb. 15 meeting to Feb. 22, the May 24 meeting to May 17 and the Dec. 6 meeting to Dec. 8. In addition, the county's annual Board of Equalization meeting was set for 7 p.m. June 14.

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Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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