Are the City of Platteville and Grant County interested in consolidating their public-safety dispatch operations, or not?
That depends on whom you ask, particularly when the question of paying for it — even paying for studying it — comes up.
The most recent opinion on the subject was the Grant County Law Enforcement Committee, which on Monday voted that if Platteville wants to conduct a $20,000 study to see the pros and cons, the city should pay for the study itself.
Sup. Lester Jantzen of Potosi made the motion, and Sup. Vince Loeffelholz of Cuba City seconded so fast that Sup. Bob Scallon of Boscobel, the chair of the committee, couldn’t keep up right away.
“We don’t have it budgeted,” said Sup. Pat Schroeder of Lancaster of the request, which would have the county and the city split the cost of the study.
“If they want to do it, let them pay for it,” Jantzen stated when he made his motion.
Grant County Sheriff Nate Dreckman and Platteville Police Chief Doug McKinley have been in talks about taking emergency service dispatching from both the call center at the Grant County Sheriff’s Department in Lancaster and at the Platteville police ptation, and put them in one location.
Dreckman told the committee that the two local governments have had good discussions about the issue. He said he believed the results of a study would likely show it would benefit the county to have calls coming through one location.
“There are huge benefits to us,” said Dreckman, noting that with the state’s encouraging regionalization, the county would likely be open for grant money to help with the effort, as well as the upcoming needs for updating the county’s 911 call software, which is currently not supported.
Dreckman said the idea was proposed by Platteville over concerns the city is being double-taxed for both the city and county systems.
The Platteville Common Council discussed consolidation of two public safety-related services — dispatch services and a proposal for Southwest Health Center in Platteville to take over Platteville EMS — at a work session Aug. 27.
At that meeting, McKinley estimated studying consolidating city and county dispatch would cost $15,000 to $25,000.
“We have to look out at the long horizon sometimes,” said District 3 Ald. Barb Daus, one of four aldermen who favored studying consolidating dispatch services. “We’re going to have to have a plan and we’re going to have to figure out ways to combine and control and collaborate on these costs.”
At that meeting, Dreckman quoted county Finance Director Nancy Scott as estimating that Platteville property taxpayers pay $54,825 for Grant County dispatch services. City taxpayers pay “more than that” including other county public safety services, including emergency government and the jail, he added.
“Part of the tax levy goes to the upkeep of the jail — more than Cassville, more than Lancaster, more than Boscobel,” said Dreckman. “You’re probably paying your share.”
“We’re providing service for the City of Platteville, but we’re paying the county,” said Common Council President Eileen Nickels.
Dreckman said Monday, however, it was eye-opening to see how many other non-police/fire/EMS services utilize Platteville’s dispatch service, and how it may cause issues if the service was consolidated at the sheriff’s department. City dispatch also includes Platteville Fire and EMS, UW–Platteville police, and City of Platteville Public Works and Streets department employees.
“Their dispatch does a lot for their city,” said Dreckman.
“I’m not worried about the $54,000 as much as I am concerned about technology” in the future, said Daus. “The expectations are going to be higher and higher and higher.”
Grant County Chief Deputy Jack Johnson added that Grant County provides backup for city dispatch. While landline 911 calls go directly to Platteville dispatch, cellular 911 calls go to Grant County first, and are then switched over to Platteville.
The county has been considering improvements to the Law Enforcement Center in Lancaster (see story, page 12B), but so far the dispatch area hasn’t been part of those plans.
“We need more time to determine if we should fix the facility we have or build a new facility,” Dreckman told the council. “Our facility was 10 years out of date when it was built in 1983.”
The head of the county dispatch center, Chris Johll, created a list of pros and cons “with a lot more pros for it,” said Dreckman. “The city, I would think they would come up with cons. There’s advantages on both sides.”
One of the cons is that the city would incur dispatch expense whether or not it kept its own dispatch services or consolidated with Grant County. Extending dispatch services to Platteville may result in added expense for Grant County’s other municipalities, he added.
Dreckman was confident Monday that any study would call for the dispatch center to be located in Lancaster. He said while Platteville has a new police station with room for the call center, Dreckman noted that the infrastructure to send out information to the entire county is located at the Sheriff’s Department. He added that in most consolidations he has researched, the move has generally gone to the city.
“I would suggest moving your dispatch to Platteville,” said at-large Ald. Patrice Steiner.
“Lancaster is centrally located” and has the Grant County Courthouse, replied Johll.
“And that would be my argument for why you should keep city dispatch,” said Dreckman.
McKinley added another argument, saying of Johll: “His folks don’t know Platteville.”
“They do know Platteville,” replied Johll.
“I oppose it because I don’t want to add costs to the other communities we serve,” said Dreckman.
“We should all be working toward the benefit of the citizens we serve, whether it’s the city or elsewhere,” said Daus.
“Our dispatchers do a great job,” said Nickels. “Nobody is questioning that.”
At-large Ald. Mike Denn opposed both consolidation and studying consolidation, saying, “We spend too much money for too many ideas and no solutions.”
“We need efficiencies; both governments do,” said Nickels, who favors a consolidation study.