STURGIS — The potential merger of Butte and Meade counties’ dispatch centers is still in the talking stages, Meade County Commissioners said Tuesday.
Commissioner Doreen Creed said commissioners from Meade and Butte counties have met recently concerning the merger of the dispatch centers. She stressed that neither of the meetings had a quorum of commissioners, so weren’t considered official meetings.
“These have been informal,” she said.
On Monday, Creed, along with Meade County Commissioner Rod Bradley, Sheriff Ron Merwin, Public Works Director Kevin Forrester as well as Butte County Sheriff Fred Lamphere, Butte County Dispatch Coordinator Vicki Greenwood, and Butte County Commissioners Frank Walton and Stanley Harms met.
Creed said Forrester spent much of the time discussing the logistics of a merger.
“We’re still in the talking stages,” she said. “They recognize the need for cost savings. They don’t have any more money in their budget than Meade County has in theirs. In order to properly fund all the needed areas of government, we need to look at any partnership we can in order to decrease our costs.”
The meeting in Sturgis Monday also gave the Butte County Commissioners a chance to see the dispatch center setup, Creed said.
“They don’t have room for Meade County (dispatch) to go up there,” she said.
Creed said the state is changing the provider of an upgrade to its 911 system. Originally that system was to come online Dec. 18, but the state found out it can’t get everything converted by then.
“When we get closer, we will be bringing some things forward,” Creed said. “It is apparent that if we do a merger, there should be significant savings for all partners.”
Meade County Commissioner Talbot Wieczorek said from his perspective, and from reading a recent story in the Black Hills Pioneer, the Butte County Commission is not in favor of the merger.
“We’re still a long ways away from this,” he said. “It’s my understanding that there is not even a commitment from Butte County to do this.”
Creed said the newspaper story “caused some heartburn” with citizens of Butte County.
“Which side of the heart did it burn? The ‘for’ or the ‘against?’” Wieczorek asked.
Commissioner Rod Bradley said Butte County residents see the merger as a loss for their county.
Oz Hespe, a resident and owner of Stereos 'N Stuff in Belle Fourche, voiced his concerns at a recent Butte County Commission meeting about the potential merger.
"I'm here as a businessman, a taxpayer, a life-long resident of Butte County ... I love Belle Fourche, and I'm tired of seeing everything leave Belle Fourche and nothing coming this way," he said.
Meade County Commission Chairman Ted Seaman said that when he spoke with his counterpart, Butte County Commission Chairman Kim Richards at a meeting in Pierre, that one of the concerns was losing employees.
“I don’t see how we can combine the two and keep all the employees hired,” he said.
Creed said that they learned at the meeting Monday that of the eight dispatchers now working in Butte County, only two live within Butte County. The others live in Meade, Lawrence and Pennington counties, she said.
Bradley said some Meade County Commissioners planned to attend an upcoming Butte County Commission meeting in hopes of answering any questions the commissioners would have about the merger.
Currently both Butte and Meade 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 benchmark which would net them additional state 911 funding.