MONTROSE-On Tuesday, July 21, the Montrose City Council approved Resolution 2015-17, a resolution of the City Council of the City of Montrose directing City of Montrose staff members to establish and implement a regional dispatch center serving the Western Colorado region, including Ouray, San Miguel, and Montrose Counties, followed by City Council consideration of Resolution 2015-18, a resolution consenting to participation by the Western Colorado Regional Dispatch Center in the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency.
Many locals are shaking their heads in astonishment at the idea of two Dispatch Centers—particularly when all agree that the existing Center is state-of-the-art in terms of staffing and equipment, and functions as it should.
Two meetings last week illustrated the situation—one, on Monday July 13, was held at a County location, the other, which was televised, took place at City Council Chambers.
The three-hour meeting on July 14 began inauspiciously, with a visibly irritated but less-than-completely coherent City Councilor Kathy Ellis placing document after highlighted document on an overhead scanner. For roughly half an hour, viewers watching the meeting from home on the Govt. Channel 191 enjoyed views of off-center, blurry, highlighted documents concerning the Public Safety Sales Tax passed by County voters in 2007. At one point, a loud belch was heard as the documents were shuffled on screen.
In attendance and seated around a table were County Commissioners and County Manager Ken Norris, as well as City Council members Swanson, Ellis, Judy Ann Files, Mayor David Romero and City Manager Bill Bell. City Councilor Bob Nicholson was out of town.
Eventually, City Councilor Rex Swanson spoke. After thanking members of the BOCC for attending, he said, “Rick is not the issue. It’s the BOCC…this is taxation without representation.
“The issue is not the quality of the Dispatch Center, it’s the bullying of the Board of County Commissioners.”
Mayor Romero then stated, “Dispatch can no longer remain under one entity—we would not be in the mess we are in today if users had merged years ago.” Romero cited rising administrative fees. “That’s such a critical piece; why not accept the City’s offer to run the administration of the Center?” Romero later pointed out that the crux of the issue is the need for Dispatch to be run by an autonomous board.
Montrose County Commissioner David White was allowed to speak next. White suggested that the meeting should involve open dialog. “This comes down to the color of money,” White said. “Your issue is one of governing authority and span of control; this is truly the Sheriff’s decision, not that of the BOCC; the Regional Dispatch Center is subsidized by the Sheriff’s budget. He has proposed an advisory board, and he is willing to work with the agencies.
“Your questions on funding have been answered over and over,” White said. “Funding from the Public Safety Sales Tax is for use by the Sheriff, not by all agencies.”
White went on to note that he was the Mayor of Montrose at the time the PSST was passed, and that at the time, the City declined support. “Tax increases are not well received in our community,” White said.
White also stated that a new Dispatch Facility would take years to reach the effectiveness and level of service already provided by the Montrose Regional Dispatch Center, and that Sheriff Dunlap has offered a reasonable and equitable solution to the fee issue that would bring City costs down.
“The Sheriff’s model brings fees below what they were in 2015, and reduces costs into the future,” White said. “Stop the feuding and the dispute and let’s reach an agreement. Whatever choice you make had better be a wise one—because to continue on this path is not in keeping with the leadership roles we were elected to fulfill.”
White later asked the City to consider its own role in increasing Dispatch fees.
“What are the users doing to control costs?” White asked. “The police department is closed on Fridays, and closed over the lunch hour, so calls are routed to Dispatch. An internal analysis could reduce user costs.”
Sheriff Dunlap stated that he has worked to come up with an agreement that is fair and equitable to all Dispatch users, is open to budgetary discussions each year, and is committed to the establishment of advisory board.
“I am open to a cap on increases,” he said. “That would be an advisory board decision. However, the price of technology continues to go up, and when something breaks down I do need to replace it.
“It is clear to me that the City is committed to moving forward with plans for its own Dispatch Center,” he said. “Though there is no issue with the quality of the current center or the qualifications of the people running it. Is what is being proposed really in the best interests of the citizens of Montrose County, or have we lost touch?”
City Manager Bill Bell read eight sentences that he wished to be eliminated from the City’s pending Dispatch agreement with Montrose County, and commented at length. At one point Bell said, “An advisory board without authority is not what we are looking for…we want authority over budgeting and staffing. Montrose County has sole discretion over staffing, and we don’t like that. But you don’t want to hear from us and you don’t care what we have to say.”
Montrose County Commissioner Glen Davis also spoke. “You want to take something that works perfectly, and turn it over to a board to what with it? Improve it? The safety of our community is at stake.
“You say this is not about the money or the service, but about control, but you’re not paying your fair share.”
“We want it run by law enforcement people,” countered Bell, “a super majority should be able to fire the executive director.”
“We really need an answer tonight,” Swanson said.
“The organization works well, the price hasn’t changed, and Rick’s model is cheaper,” Davis said. “I will not turn that type of County financing over to any appointed board. The Sheriff is an elected official.”
All three commissioners noted that no decision could be made at the July 14 meeting, as it was not a noticed County Commissioners’ meeting.
The City allowed comment from six members of the public, including former City Councilor Thomas Smits, who was on the board that hired Bill Bell in 2011; former Mayor Jose Abeyta; former two-term Ouray County Commissioner Alan Staley; citizen Jim Anderson; citizen and longtime emergency services professional Jim Haughness; Olathe Mayor Rob Smith; Citizen Sandra Tyler; and Citizen Paul Dow.
“Advisory boards at the County level are a waste of time,” Smits said. “The only way to go is with a representative board. Advisory boards are a joke.”
Smith asked Sheriff Dunlap about recommendations based on the APCO consultation, which have not been released yet, according to the Sheriff. Smith also asked if Dunlap would have veto power over an advisory board. Dunlap responded that he while personnel issues are also subject to Human Resources oversight and can be the subjects of lawsuits, if a board member recommended termination of a staffer he would have “no problem” with that.
Staley noted that service begins when “someone picks up the phone can calls 911,” and suggested that the Dispatch budget be separated from the County’s general fund.
“I understand budgets, and I am dismayed to see the controversy,” Staley said, noting that Commissioner Davis is an old friend. “This whole thing is about money and accountability; Rick gets huge credit for hiring Susan Byrne…I think a board of directors is something we should try for a while.”
Abeyta, who served as Seventh Judicial District chief probation officer for 18 years, called on everyone involved to set their egos aside and do what is best for the community.
“I am really amazed that this group cannot come up with a decision that serves the citizens of this community,” Abeyta said. “You talk about a board of directors…what happened to the City’s Parks Advisory Committee? Guess that didn’t work.
“My experience in government is that if you want to play, you better pay,” he said. “If the County is carrying the bill, that’s the way it is in this Country.”
Jim “L.J.” Anderson complimented Dispatch on its handling of a recent 911 call.
“The County was great, and Susan was great,” Anderson said. “The operation is good to go.”
Haughness, a 28-year EMS professional who has lived in Montrose since 2000, spoke about his experiences working with the Sheriff’s Office and the Montrose Fire Protection District, which he called a “smoothly running model for success.”
Tyler said she agreed with Anderson and Smits. “What and where is the money collected? What percentage goes to the Sheriff and other areas? Was a reserve equipment fund ever established in the beginning? If we have such a state-of-the-art center it has to be in the budget somewhere. I agree with Jim Anderson and Thomas Smits. Let’s put personalities aside and get down to the nitty gritty.”
“I enjoy a good cat fight as much as anyone,” said Dow. “It seems to me like we are entertaining the idea of the Dispatch Center being independent.
“Two Dispatch Centers?” he continued. “You’ve gotta be outta your minds. Why would you ever even think about it?” And a governing board composed of law enforcement and emergency professionals only “overloads the specialists and shorts the taxpayers.”