by Julie Ann Madden
With South Dakota’s new mandate of having communications centers or Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) staffed with two dispatchers 24 hours a day effective Jan. 1, Union County officials are scrambling to come up with a solution.
At their July 24 meeting, Beresford officials reported their council had approved dissolving their communications center Dec. 31 and relying on Union County officials to provide the service.
According to Beresford Councilor Tom Erickson, their dispatchers had been notified, and there was the possibility one or more would find other employment prior to the end of the year. Therefore, city officials would shut down their center sooner.
Judy Oberg of the Union County Sheriff’s Office informed the commissioners they were advertising to fill four dispatch positions by Jan. 1. She and Sheriff Dan Limoges had approached Beresford’s dispatchers about coming to work for the county but it was doubtful any would take the offer as it would not only be a cut in pay but it would be 60-mile round trip to work at the Union County Law Enforcement Center in Elk Point.
She noted the training for new dispatchers is a minimum of eight weeks in Pierre, S.D., and dispatchers have one year to become certified in communications.
“When we do the switch, we need the have the manpower to do it right,” said Oberg.
Union County officials are also working on making changes to the communications equipment to be able to handle calls throughout the county, she said. The Union County Sheriff’s Office, which includes the communications department, handles 9-1-1 and non-emergency calls for several municipal police, fire and ambulance squads in the county.
Commissioners asked Beresford officials if they would be willing to contribute financially if they shut down their communications center before Jan. 1, which is the beginning of the county’s next budget year. They replied it would be up to their council.
At their Aug. 7 meeting, commissioners met with Oberg in the absence of Sheriff Dan Limoges.
The main topic was the financial aspects of “this new venture,” said Commission Chairperson Doyle Karpen called it.
The main question was whether to keep the communications center as part of the sheriff’s office or to separate it and hire a director of communications to manage the new department.
Oberg noted a director would cost a minimum of $70,000 but Karpen responded Lincoln County only pays about $50,000 and if that figure was calculated as a per capita cost, the salary would be about $25,000 for Union County, and the director’s duties would include dispatching calls.
When Oberg asked if he’d checked the Clay County director’s salary, Karpen responded commissioners “don’t check with Clay County.”
Next, Oberg asked where the commissioners would put the communications department, and Commissioner Ross Jordan responded, “In the same spot,” and Karpen answered, “We might move (the sheriff) out.”
Oberg asked if they separated the communications center from the sheriff’s department, would the dispatchers still do sheriff’s department duties such as prepare arrest warrants.
“That would be between the sheriff and the director,” said Doyle.
“Basically, management responsibilities would be separate but all would work collaboratively,” said Jordan, adding it makes fiscal sense to separate the departments so the commission knows the communication center’s revenues and expenditures.
“It’s up to you guys,” said Oberg. “You’re the ones who control the money.”
“These are all the things we have to look at since this thing is growing,” said Karpen. “With the new cities coming in, we have to come up with the costs because the county has been carrying the whole burden. We’re trying to figure out with the 9-1-1 monies how much the county has to supplement to make this doable before the first of the year.”
Oberg informed them the cost would be a little lower than originally thought because a $12,000 piece of equipment, a signal repeater, wasn’t needed. There would still be a $1,200 cost in equipment.
However, the county will have to update its communications system to the “Next Gen” level whenever that becomes available and/or mandated.
Jordan told his fellow commissioners he had calculated salaries for 11 communications center employees, which includes the four new positions and a director, at $300,000 annually.
Karpen noted the cities of Alcester, Elk Point and Jefferson have been getting the county’s communications at no charge while Beresford has been operating its own service. North Sioux City contracts its services with Woodbury County law enforcement agencies in Iowa and county officials weren’t sure if that would change.
He estimated the county’s fiscal responsibility would be about $150,000 because half the county’s population is rural population and half is under the jurisdictions of cities.
The Dakota Dunes Community Improvement District is part of the rural population, therefore, it is the county’s responsibility, said Karpen, adding the county receives about $84,000 annually in 9-1-1 levies, which is based on 8,000 phone land lines in the county. Taking the remaining $66,000 and dividing it by 7,000 (half of Union County’s population), he guestimated each city would be responsible for about $10 for each of its residents.
“I think it’s necessary for cities to help support the communications center because the state’s put a gun to our head,” said Karpen, explaining he was just “throwing out rough numbers” at this point.
Commissioner Milton Ustad noted Beresford and North Sioux City officials have been spending money for these services but it will be a new adjustment for the other cities.
The costs will be estimated now because it is 2013 budget time, he added, so after Jan. 1, the cost could go up or down.
Jordan asked Oberg to give them input on “obstacles” she saw and asked her to consider applying for the director’s position.
Editor’s Note: After the meeting, The Akron Hometowner learned the following:
According to the Lincoln County Auditor’s Office, their communications center supervisor earns a base salary of $51,769.08. In addition, he receives 6 percent South Dakota Retirement Fund contribution and vacation and sick leave. Although this employee didn’t take health insurance, if the supervisor did, the county pay’s 60 percent of the insurance cost.
Per Vermillion Finance Officer Mike Carlson, the Clay County Emergency Communications supervisor receives a salary of $45,831.60 plus benefits, which include health insurance, $10,000 life insurance, South Dakota Retirement Fund contribution, dental insurance and vacation and holiday pay.