Butte, Meade counties discuss dispatch merger

Butte County Dispatch Coordinator Vicki Greenwood processes a call to dispatch Thursday. Pioneer photo by Lacey Peterson

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STURGIS — Meade and Butte counties are in the early stages of talks to combine their emergency dispatch centers.

Butte County Commission Chairman Kim Richards sent a letter to the Meade County Commission earlier this month saying that as the county begins the budget process for 2020, he thought it may be a good time to start visiting about the possibility of combining the two Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) centers.

Recently, Butte County Sheriff Fred Lamphere and Vicki Greenwood, the county’s dispatch supervisor, met with Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin about the idea of combing the centers.

“With today’s advanced technology and radio systems, we are confident that one PSAP center could serve multiple counties very well,” Richards wrote in the letter.

Richards also believes that because the two counties already have an ongoing working agreement for jail services that they have a track record of working well together.

Jerry Derr, Meade County Commission assistant and Human Resources director, said county officials are currently researching revenue and staffing needs associated with such a move. 

Revenue is one of the strong incentives to combining the centers. Currently both county dispatch centers serve areas with populations under 30,000. But, if the two were to combine offices, it would push them over the 30,000 mark.

So why is 30,000 a magic number?

South Dakota collects 911 surcharge fees on landline, 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 pre-paid 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 usually then earmarks that money for the dispatch center.

Centers that serve more than 30,000 people receive extra funding.

Here is the breakdown of how the allocation of the $1.25 911 surcharge is handled :70% or $0.875 goes back to the counties and 30% (or $0.375) goes to the 911 Emergency Fund.

Of the $0.375: 74% or $0.278 goes to the 911 Coordination Fund for NG911; and 26% or $0.097 goes to eligible Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) based on population (30,000 or more) and compliance with administrative rule

King said that if Butte and Meade counties were to combine their PSAPs, they would be eligible, based upon population, to receive a portion of the 911 Emergency Fund as outlined above.

Butte County’s PSAP currently provides dispatch service for not only the Butte County Sheriff, but also Belle Fourche police and fire as well as Newell police and fire.

Each department has an annual budget of more than $600,000.

“The working relationship between our two sheriffs is very positive, therefore we feel that by operating the two PSAP centers out of one county would be fiscally responsible,” Richards said. 

Butte County has eight dispatch employees and Meade County has nine as well as some part-time employees.

“This is a preliminary discussion,” Derr said Tuesday at the Meade County Commission meeting.

Commissioner Doreen Creed said she believes combining of the two centers is “definitely worth examination.”

“I think it could be a cost savings to everybody that uses dispatch,” she said. 

Commissioner Rich Liggett said he would like to know more about space needs and impact to Meade County’s IT system with a combining of centers.

Derr told commissioners that both counties operate on the same computer system. 

“We already have all the infrastructure in place – the enhanced 911 communications system,” he said.

Commissioner Rod Bradley said he was open to exploring the option of combining the centers, but said commissioners need more facts before making any decisions.

Derr said those facts should include statistics on average calls that come into each dispatch center daily, monthly or annually then from there determine the staffing needs.

“Let’s keep pursuing this, and once we get some firm numbers let’s revisit it,” Chairman Ted Seaman said. 

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