Meade, Butte counties move ahead with dispatch center plan

A Meade County dispatcher works in the Public Safety Answering Point center in Sturgis. Meade and Butte counties are moving ahead to combine dispatch centers. Pioneer photo by Deb Holland

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STURGIS — Meade and Butte County officials are forging ahead with a plan to combine their law enforcement dispatch centers into one center.

“Our goal is to have it done by January,” said Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin.

Each county’s Public Safety Answering Point center (or law enforcement dispatch center) currently operates with about eight dispatchers. Merwin said the combined center would operate with the eight Meade County dispatchers and four from Butte County.

Revenue is one of the strong incentives to combining the centers.

Cutting some staff and only having to pay for upkeep and maintenance of one dispatch center computer and records system would save some money. 

“We’re working right now with that computer provider to combine and eliminate one of the systems. That alone could save us $58,000,” Merwin said. 

Combining of the centers would also generate a new form of revenue.

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 mark.

So why is 30,000 a magic number?

South Dakota collects 911 surcharge fees on wireline, wireless, VoIP, and pre-paid telephone services to fund South Dakota’s 9-1-1 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 land-line 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.

King said that if Butte and Meade were to combine their PSAPs, they would be eligible, based upon population, to receive a portion of the extra funding from the 9-1-1 Emergency Fund.

Since the inception of 911 call centers in South Dakota, the state has encouraged combining of centers. 

Today there are less than 15 call centers in South Dakota and state officials would like to see that number drop to four or five, Merwin said.

But Merwin believes the dispatch system is something very personal.

“People who call in are in a panic. If you don’t know your area or your people, that could be trouble. If you get too big, you lose that personal touch, and make mistakes,” he said.

Merwin said he is committed to bringing the dispatchers from Butte County to the new center in Meade County because they already know the area and people of Butte County.

Merwin said the two counties already have an ongoing working agreement for jail services and have a track record of working well together.

The new center will be responsible for dispatch services for the following agencies:  Meade County Sheriff, Sturgis Police, Faith Police, Summerset Police, Belle Fourche Police, Butte County Sheriff, Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department, Sturgis Ambulance Service, Butte County Ambulance Service, Newell Ambulance Service, Belle Fourche Volunteer Fire Department, Newell Fire Department, Nisland Fire Department, Vale Fire Department, Union Center and Enning Fire and Ambulance, and Hereford Volunteer Fire Department. 

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