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Regional dispatch center plans moving forward

SLAYTON -- After a two-hour meeting, the players involved in the regional dispatch group still have more questions than answers, but are making progress for now.

The sheriffs from Nobles, Cottonwood, Rock and Murray counties, along with various county and city representatives, approved a decision to contract with legal counsel to draw up a tentative joint powers agreement and to have Therkelsen Consulting take a closer look at what would need to be done to get the dispatch center in Worthington ready for use as a regional dispatch.

Therkelsen will also look at both the Cottonwood County and Murray County dispatch sites. Gary Therkelsen referred to the studies as a "relatively medium-level view of feasibility" at the sites.

"That can help arm you with information for making a decision on a site," he said.

The group decided during its last regional meeting two weeks ago to go with the dispatch center at the Prairie Justice Center in Worthington as a regional dispatch, but not everyone is happy with that decision. Murray County is about one year ahead of the others in lighting up its ARMER system, an interoperability radio system. It plans to have ARMER up and running by Dec. 31 of this year. The goal date for a regional dispatch is to be ready to go by Dec. 31, 2011.

"I have to continue to go on as if this is not going to happen," said Murray County Chief Deputy Randy Donahue.

"And if our system is up and running in our own facility, there is not big incentive for Murray County to have it all torn out in a year. Once we have bolted it to a wall, it is going to stay there," Donahue added.

Murray County Commissioner Kevin Vickerman mentioned that a new, freestanding building could be built in the 18 months before the goal deadline.

"You couldn't get a building built in 18 months," said Nobles County Commissioner Vern Leistico. "Not for a government entity."

Leistico disagreed with the decision to study the Murray County and Cottonwood County sites, stating it would simply cost more money.

"Worthington is already there and it works," he said. "Why spend the extra to study two places?"

Donahue pointed out his department would still need to pay jailers, and he was still against moving the equipment out of the Murray County law enforcement center a year after it was installed. Cottonwood County Sheriff Jason Purrington said he also has jailers working 24 hours a day.

Rock County Administrator Kyle Oldre had told others in the group earlier in the meeting that Cottonwood County had signed the resolution to be part of the implementation study, bringing the group from three counties to four.

Most of the group members seem content with the idea of using Worthington as the joint dispatch site.

"You've got a facility and that is what it was designed for," Oldre stated. "We have to maximize what we have instead of trying to build new or acquiring a building. That would be government not doing a prudent government thing."

Rock County Sheriff Evan Verbrugge said with the timeline and studies that had already been done, it makes the most sense to put the dispatch center in Worthington, adding that he had been sitting at the meeting for two hours and not seen any progress.

"Let's just make a decision and get it done," he stated. "Otherwise we are just chasing out tails."

A similar discussion had taken place earlier regarding the decision made at the last meeting to go with a joint powers agreement instead of a contract for service.

Nobles County Commissioner David Benson and Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark both asked the rest of the group to reconsider a contract for service.

"Maybe we should not jump into bed with a joint powers agreement right away," Benson said. "From my perspective, Nobles County has a good relationship with the existing dispatch (through the Worthington Police Department.) There is a value in the existing structure."

Clark said if he had a vote he would choose the contract for services.

"Too many cooks breeds inefficiency," he stated.

Both Verbrugge and Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening said joint powers was the only option they would accept.

"I don't like the contract issue one bit," Verbrugge stated. "I would rather be able to voice any concerns to an executive director than to the (police) chief."

A conference call with legal council Ann Goering had her agreeing with the two sheriffs.

"Joint powers is the better way to go," she stated, citing the control factor as a primary reason.

Some differing opinions were readily apparent as the group discussed governance and site choices. Wilkening asked if a site or governance decision was going to cause any of the entities to pull out of the group.

"It has taken a lot for me to bring my board this far," Vickerman admitted. "We would have to look at what we have spent and how much it would cost us to move. I don't know if I can answer that."

With another meeting scheduled for Aug. 16, the group is planning on hearing a technology update, listening to comments from the state E911 coordinator, hearing from Goering about a joint powers draft and getting answers regarding feasibility from Therkelsen.