‘Unspoken objections’ may be hurdle to dispatch merger
|Dispatcher Melinda McCarter works Wednesday afternoon at the Sterling Police Department. In renovating the Sterling Coliseum, which houses the Police Department and city offices, the city plans to include a dispatch area with four work stations to accommodate the consolidation of the Sterling, Rock Falls and Whiteside County dispatcher centers. (Alex T. Paschalemail@example.com)|
|Buy Sauk Valley Media Photos »|
STERLING – A consultant told local officials last year they could save millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money if they combined police dispatch services.
But officials wondered how they would come up with the money to pay for a new facility to house the operation. None of the agencies had enough room for it.
The city of Sterling now says it has a solution.
In renovating the Sterling Coliseum, which houses the police department and city offices, the city plans to include a dispatch area with four work stations. That could accommodate consolidation when it is completed within a couple of years, City Manager Scott Shumard said.
He said the cost of a dispatch center shouldn’t have been an obstacle in the first place, given the long-term savings.
Last year, the consultant’s study showed that Whiteside County’s taxpayers would save $14 million over a decade if area officials combined dispatch services. The study’s cost, $50,000, was shared by Sterling and the county; Rock Falls declined to contribute.
“The last hurdle I was aware of was the concern of where to locate central dispatch,” Shumard said. “The county was concerned it didn’t have enough space. Building a new facility was considered burdensome. That was a bad argument because the cost of putting something up was less than the savings over 10 years.”
In December, the issue hit a roadblock in county government. The County Board directed the Emergency Telephone Systems Board, which handles 911 issues, to look for ways to pay for combining 911 dispatch services.
The emergency board declined, saying it had no power to create a tax or issue bonds.
Now, the coliseum plan puts the cost issue to rest, Shumard said.
“It would solve the objections that have been voiced,” he said. “It won’t solve the unspoken objections.”
He would not elaborate on what those “unspoken objections” might be.
Last year, Rock Falls officials made clear they had no interest in joining forces.
At the time, Alderman Glen Kuhlemier said consolidation was an “attempt to delete the identity of this community.” He said this week his position had not changed.
Alderman Daehle Reitzel said the dispatch services seem to be working fine the way they are. He said he would be open to consolidation if he were presented with evidence “in black and white” about savings.
“It would have to save quite a bit,” he said.
Reitzel said he had not seen the consultant’s 72-page study, but he said that didn’t mean it was not available.
Rock Falls Aldermen Mark Vandersnick and Bob Thurm declined to comment on the issue. The others couldn’t be reached.
In presenting the consolidation study last June, consultant Roger Olwin of Stillwater, Minn.-based Elert & Associates said local entities might not have the political willpower to combine agencies, despite the savings.
In an interview this week, he said he had seen political stumbling blocks in other areas, but they seemed more substantial in Whiteside County. The local political hurdles are spread among entities, he said.
“I think there has been a history in the area of the cities not getting along,” he said. “Hopefully, that mends over time.”
The mayors note they have lunch regularly to talk about issues. And the fire departments are known for their cooperation, with the Rock Falls deputy fire chief serving as Sterling’s interim chief.
But hard feelings remain more than a year after the cities got into a public tussle over the location of state offices.
During the consolidation talks last year, Rock Falls Police Chief Mike Kuelper expressed concern that, under consolidation, no one would staff his department after hours.
Olwin said that issue is a bigger one politically. In reality, he said, a dispatcher can’t do much for people who need help.
“If people need an officer, they’re going to get an officer sent whether there is a dispatcher or not,” he said.
He said “loss of control” arguments are commonly used to oppose consolidation of dispatch services.
“The politics have to be pushed aside to get down to good, serious cooperation,” he said.
Officials haven’t discussed consolidation in months, but Olwin said that’s not unusual.
“Sometimes it takes a number of years before they consolidate,” he said.
Lee County’s dispatch services consolidated in 1997.
More Local News
- Prosecutors: Ng had a cohort
- Most of corn crop now in field
- Mayor starts bike rack program
- Board OKs wind farm
- We lost ‘a great role model’