Study will examine combined 911 centersOfficials from several southeastern Minnesota counties - including Goodhue - have received a state grant to study shared 911 dispatch services.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
Officials from several southeastern Minnesota counties - including Goodhue - have received a state grant to study shared 911 dispatch services.
A consultant will explore the possibility of one dispatch center for Houston, Fillmore, Winona, Wabasha, Dodge and Goodhue counties, Goodhue County Sheriff Dean Albers said this week.
Minnesota officials are encouraging counties to research the idea. The state's Department of Public Safety awarded the group $150,000 to begin a study this summer. It will take more than a year.
"What will come out of this, I have no idea," Albers said. "We introduce the idea now and hopefully in time people will resign themselves that maybe this is the way to go."
Albers said expensive technology upgrades - which smaller counties have a hard time keeping up with and paying for - have sped up the push for combined dispatch centers.
Last year Wabasha and Goodhue county officials discussed sharing a dispatch center but Wabasha County ended up shying away from the idea months before their new law enforcement center was set to open.
Albers said the idea of shifting 911 dispatch to another county will take a while to get used to. He said residents feel more comfortable calling for help and reaching someone nearby.
Albers said he understand the concern.
"I can't say that I'm 100 percent comfortable with it yet but I see so many examples of how it can work and why it has to work," he said. "My hesitation is replaced by reality."
The sheriff said technological advances make regional dispatch centers possible by giving dispatchers - no matter where they are - the tools to locate individuals and quickly send an officer to the scene.
"We're all scared," Albers said. "You want your first responders to be able to find you. Hopefully as time goes on we can show you that, yes, we can."
Albers said the financial advantages regional dispatch centers provide make the idea appealing, especially for smaller counties.
"As a sheriff I would hate to lose our dispatch center and I understand that concern," Albers said. "But as a sheriff I owe the taxpayers the best they can get. If that means shipping it off and saving money, then so be it."
Minnesota counties receive funds for their 911 centers through a phone surtax, making it cheaper for taxpayers when a group of counties eliminates redundancies and operates one center, Goodhue County Chief Deputy Scott McNurlin said.
McNurlin said combining 911 dispatch services will require a lot of work and time.
"We want to maintain the same level of service that each of the counties currently get," he said. "This study is a way to flesh the whole issue out and look at all the dimensions of it."
Tim Leslie, assistant commissioner for the state's Department of Public Safety, said his agency has issued grants to 37 counties statewide interested in studying combined dispatch centers.
He said the state is not interested in mandating the idea or taking away local control but that sharing resources - a big money saver - should be done whenever possible.
Leslie said technology has made the idea easier for residents to swallow.
"What we're hearing is that if you're in crisis ... you don't really care what color the uniform is, you just care that somebody gets there," Leslie said. "It's really up to the individual groups whether they do this or not. We hope the money is well spent and they combine in some form but we know that not everybody will."