The Platteville Common Council is taking the first steps to possibly eliminate the city's police dispatch center. The council discussed the issue during a work session following the regular meeting on Tuesday, March 13.
The council has advised Larry Bierke, city manager, to meet with John Patcle, chairman of the Grant County Board of Supervisors and Grant County Sheriff Keith Govier. Bierke will be meeting with Patcle and a representative from the sheriff's department on March 29. Govier is not available at that time.
"The message I got from the city council was that they definitely want me to get the county to take over dispatch services," said Bierke, noting he was instructed by the council to explore the issue last year and was unable to complete the task at that time.
According to Mike Dalecki, common council president, there is no plan set in stone at this point. "Nothing has been decided yet," he said, noting the council has put it on the table for discussion.
"In this day and age where everyone is short of funds, we need to turn over every rock," added Dalecki.
Bierke does not foresee this issue coming before the council for any type of action for quite sometime. They will need to give county officials plenty of time to discuss the issue.
Bierke sent a letter to Patcle on March 14, outlining the council's desire. "The City of Platteville recognizes that our residents are being taxed to support both the county dispatch center in Lancaster and the local dispatch center in Platteville," stated Bierke. "The City of Platteville wishes to discontinue this ‘double taxation...' I would like to meet with you and the county sheriff to discuss what options may exist, and what a smooth transition may look like."
Bierke was also asked by the council to return from his meeting with county officials with a plan for a transition or an alternative proposal that moves city taxpayers away from what is perceived as "double taxation."
"We can't tax our residents twice for the same service," said Bierke. "There's no reason to have that duplication."
Copies of the letter were also sent to Govier and Doug McKinley, Platteville police chief.
The main contention by the council is that a portion of property taxes of Platteville residents goes to Grant County, which in turn budgets money for the Grant County Sheriff's Department and the dispatch center.
Property taxes in the city are also used to fund the city's police dispatch center.
Platteville and the Grant County Sheriff's Department are the lone dispatch centers in the county.
McKinley recognizes these are difficult economic times; however, he says the dispatch center enhances the services that are offered to the city. He also noted there are numerous issues associated with eliminating the city dispatch center. "I would like to believe this isn't a done deal," he said, noting he does not want the council to make a decision in a vacuum, not knowing all of the facts.
Bierke noted, city officials will have a better outlook on the issue following his meeting on March 29.
The cost to operate the dispatch center is $329,941. Of that amount, $302,621 is for wages and benefits for four full-time employees and two three-quarter time employees. That figure also includes $9,320 for radio maintenance and $18,000 for the TIME system.
"This is a pretty substantial line item on the budget," said Bierke.
The dispatch center operates 24 hours each day, seven days a week. In addition to answering 911 calls, dispatchers perform a host of other duties including handling non-emergency calls, including all fire and EMS calls, all inquiries from the public for the police department, and maintain the department's records. They also provide dispatch services for the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Campus Police.
Dispatchers also answer calls after hours, from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. "They are the voice for the city for those hours," said McKinley.
McKinley noted that if the county were to handle city calls, the city calls would go into a queue and they may not be as important as they would be if they went to city dispatch. McKinley believes the city handles just as many, if not more, calls for service, than the county. How those extra calls would be handled is one of several issues that McKinley is concerned with if the dispatch is eliminated.
Another key issue would be the elimination of six employees. "They are all in limbo," said McKinley.
"Throughout this whole process I want to make sure our staff our treated fairly," added Bierke, noting he has met with dispatch staff to inform them of the situation and to answer questions.
"Ideally, if I could find a way to keep dispatch here and to save the jobs and help with the financial impact, that's the route I would want to go," said Bierke.