Butte County pumps the brakes on dispatch merger

Butte County decided Tuesday to slow down the potential merger with Meade County dispatch. Pioneer file photo

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BELLE FOURCHE –– Butte County has decided not to rush the ongoing discussion about merging its dispatch with Meade County, instead planning to take it a little slower hoping to create a more regional dispatch that could also include Lawrence County.

“Looking at this dispatch situation, we budgeted for (dispatch operation costs for) 2020,” Sheriff Fred Lamphere told the county commission Tuesday, adding that the discussions about the potential merger had accelerated quickly due to an upcoming phone provider switch mandated by the state for all dispatch centers. Officials in both counties thought it could be cost beneficial to merge prior to that extra cost being forced onto both counties individually.

“In the big picture when we started talking about this, it wasn’t that they (the counties) were looing at (a) two month window and we were going to have this up and going,” he said. “It was to start the discussion. And things got accelerated. From my opinion at this point … I think we really need to really spend a little more time educating what we’ve got going forward and what we’re looking at.”

During some of the initial discussions, Lamphere said he’d like to get a merger proposal assembled to be considered by both county commissions by Jan. 1, 2020.

One of the more substantial aspects pushing Lamphere forward related to the merger is the fact that the county only gets back 70% of the 911 tax funds that are collected from Butte County residents. 

“I think it’s prudent that we try to get 100% of that,” he said.

Currently both Butte and Meade county dispatch centers serve areas with populations less than 30,000. But, if the two were to combine offices, it would push them over the 30,000 benchmark which would net them additional state 911 funding.

South Dakota collects 911 surcharge fees on wire line, wireless, VoIP, and pre-paid telephone services to fund South Dakota’s 911 emergency response system, along with updates and upgrades to ensure the public always has access to immediate, reliable emergency contacts, said Maria King, NG911 project manager and interim state 911 coordinator.

Currently there is a $1.25 monthly surcharge on all telephones both landline and cellular, and 2% fee on all prepaid wireless service. 

That money is submitted by telephone carriers to the state Department of Revenue and then distributed to counties based on how many phones are in the county. The county typically then earmarks that money for the dispatch center.

“I can say us as a county the only way we’re going to do that is to partner with another county,” Lamphere said. “I really feel that Lawrence County, Meade County, and Butte County could probably have a very good dispatch center.”

Lawrence County is in the midst of performing a study related to its jail and dispatch center and, according to Lamphere, did not want to be part of the merger discussion until that study was finished around the end of the year.

Butte County, he said, was not in a hurry, either.

“The whole concept to this was that we’re good to go into next year, and we can make some decisions,” Lamphere said. “We’re not obligated to anything … I think we just slow it up a little bit and wait for the study in Lawrence County to come back, see if they’re open to that. I don’t think any one of us can stand alone with all of the mandates that are going to continue to come. I feel it’s inevitable.”

The Butte County Commissioners agreed with Lamphere’s recommendation to pump the breaks and take its time while researching a potential regional merger. 

“A good goal might be January 2021,” Commissioner Stan Harms said.

“Another goal would be that we have an agreement in place and know what the funding is going to be like by the time we do budget (next summer),” Lamphere said.

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