Joint dispatch talks cease
WORTHINGTON -- With just four entities left at the table on Friday, the 20-month study on joint dispatch operations for law enforcement in southwest Minnesota has officially fizzled.
Representatives from Murray, Nobles and Rock counties, as well as the city of Worthington, skipped over the latest financial update from Therkelsen and Associates, Inc. -- a company contracted to help the counties work toward a collaboration -- and moved right into the heart of the discussion during a late Friday morning meeting at the Prairie Justice Center in Worthington.
After an hour, in which each of the entities presented their thoughts and plans for the future, Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre said he will put the study on a shelf, to be dusted off at a time when the counties realize they must work together.
"I think it's inevitable it will happen," Oldre told the group of 15 people in attendance. "I don't think any of (our time and money) was wasted. We'll be addressing this issue again.
"Joint law enforcement in Rock County took us 20 years to get implemented," he added. "Hopefully it doesn't take us this long (for joint dispatch) because I'd like to see it worked out."
At the start of the meeting, Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark offered to pull the city out of the discussion in hopes of facilitating negotiations further between the three counties.
"We want to move forward," Clark told the group, which consisted of county commissioners, city council members and a trio of law enforcement officers. "We want to see the consolidation happen -- we don't want to throw a wrench in the works."
At that point, Oldre asked each of the counties to state their stance on joint dispatch. He said he'd seen articles in various newspapers and it was time to "lay it on the table."
"We need to know -- we've danced long enough," Oldre said. "We're interested in this project, the (Rock) county board continues to be interested in this project, but we're concerned our potential partners aren't willing to move forward."
Kevin Vickerman, Murray County Commissioner, was the first to respond, saying, "I think we're ready to move forward in a position by ourselves at this time.
"I'm a full believer in regionalization ... but we're 20 months down," he said. "I would prefer to have the group hold together, but we're going to do things that will position us for the future."
Vickerman said Murray County has already purchased some equipment with grant money it received for the implementation of the ARMER (Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response) system.
"I don't think there's been an official site picked yet," he said. "We think it was time to pull the trigger, order the equipment, install it and see where we're going."
Vickerman also said other counties are welcome to partner with them, and said their system could support up to four counties by the time it's installed. Murray County wants to be using the ARMER system by July 1, he added.
Nobles County Commissioner Diane Thier said if there weren't at least three counties moving toward joint dispatch, she saw no point in collaborating. On the other hand, Commissioner Marv Zylstra said Nobles County "wants to move forward."
Gary Therkelsen, owner of Therkelsen and Associates, said if just two counties opted to work together, it would still result in cost savings.
"The savings scale diminishes with every departure from the group, but it is still cheaper for two entities to do it as one," he said. "Personally, I think (collaboration) is the right thing to do. Regionalization is hard. There is some give and take, and I think Rock County was prepared to do that."
Oldre said the decision by counties to go their separate ways puts Rock County in a good position. All along, it had hoped to collaborate with other counties, and that could still happen. He said they have had private discussions with Murray and Cottonwood counties, though nothing has been decided. Minnesota counties have until the end of 2012 to convert to the ARMER system.
After Friday's decision was made, Oldre said he will contact Jackie Mines, Minnesota director of emergency communications, regarding the remaining grant dollars.
"Out of the initial $150,000, we did spend $95,000 on this project," he said. The money was spent on the initial GeoComm study and the follow-up study by Therkelsen and Associates.
Before sending the remaining $55,000 back to the state, Oldre will ask if the money can be used to move toward a regional records program, a collaboration that appears to be favorable among the counties involved in the joint dispatch discussion.
Rock County Commissioner Bob Jarchow publicly thanked Oldre for the work he put into the joint dispatch study and for keeping discussion flowing. Others encouraged Oldre to keep the study in hopes they will eventually come back to the table.
"Everyone in this room believes in regionalization -- that's why we're still here," Vickerman said.
Oldre said at some point, the state will likely come in and require counties to regionalize.
"The state can't keep up funding for 100-plus PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points, otherwise known as dispatch centers)," he said. "Regionalization is hard -- no matter how you look at it there's going to be perceived winners and losers. We've got to get around that."
Oldre said it took Dakota County three attempts to come to an agreement on joint dispatch, so the fact that it didn't work out for southwest Minnesota counties this time doesn't mean it's over.
"I feel bad that it didn't work out -- absolutely," he added.