By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel has proposed consolidating city and county dispatching at the Havre police station.
His proposal includes a $45,000 contribution from Hill County to pay the salary and benefits of 1 new employees.
Barthel presented his proposal to the Hill County Commission on Wednesday afternoon. The commissioner said they needed to talk it over with Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera.
"Why would we do this?" County Commissioner Doug Kaercher asked. "We can handle our own dispatch. This would be a separate cost."
The proposal is the latest in an ongoing debate over which agency should be in charge of a new enhanced 911 dispatch service.
The meeting was held without notice to the public. The commissioners said Barthel gave them an hour's notice that he wanted to meet with them.
Mike Meloy, a Helena lawyer whose office operates the Freedom of Information Hotline, said the commission needed to provide with the public with a 48-hour notice that the meeting was going to occur.
"We disagree with that and so does the county attorney," Kaercher said.
The county has handled all 911 dispatching for more than two decades. For a period, the county also handled nighttime dispatching for the city. The city began running its own 24-hour dispatch center in 2000.
About that time, the city and county had formed a committee to investigate e- 911 for the city and county. The committee voted to locate the enhanced service at the police station whenever it became available. Enhanced 911, like caller ID, allows dispatchers to see the exact location of a caller.
In November, a cost estimate said a county e-911 dispatch center would cost far less than one in the city and the committee reconsidered its decision.
Barthel found donors to cover the extra installment costs. John and Darlene Sharp purchased a $76,900 radio console and $23,000 in furniture for city dispatch. The Sharps have offered to pay another $23,000 for electrical grounding to secure the equipment.
"The city is going forward with (e-911) dispatching," Barthel told the commissioners and the sheriff Wednesday.
Barthel said the city began working on the new consolidation agreement he presented Wednesday after a Dec. 15 meeting, when Szudera offered the city the option of running consolidated dispatch out of the county jail, which was built in part to house dispatch.
Barthel said Fergus County saved money by consolidating dispatch in Lewistown.
That won't work in Hill County because the nighttime dispatcher at the county is also working as a jailer, Commissioner Pat Conway said. So that position could not be eliminated.
Also, he noted that Barthel's proposal asks for $45,000 from the county.
Szudera asked Barthel why the Police Department was opposed to operating the dispatch center at the jail. Barthel said he would prefer to answer the question one-on-one.
Barthel said the agreement was only a draft. He spoke to Havre City Council members over the phone Tuesday to make sure he had their support, but said the council has yet to review the written agreement.
County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said the situation was reversed several years ago when the county proposed consolidation at the county jail and asked the city to pay some of the costs. "We asked for basically the same thing," she said, noting that the county was turned down.
Szudera said after the meeting that Barthel's proposal "would be no savings to the county."
The 911 committee has given the state until Wednesday to present a contract that would bring enhanced 911 to Hill County. On Jan. 11 the board will meet again and vote on the contract, as well as choose a location for primary dispatch of e-911.
In order to sign the contract, the committee needs to choose between the county and the city as a primary dispatch center. If the committee does not go with the state's plan, it will chose among bids it received from telecommunications companies that offer the e--911 service.
Wednesday's County Commission meeting was unannounced.
Meloy said any meeting discussing matters of "significant public interest" by the County Commission require 48 hours notice, regardless of whether the commissioners take a vote during the meeting. In fact, under a separate statute, the public must be give advance notice of any meeting that is to be an open meeting, even if the commissioners are just discussing Christmas tree lighting, he said.
Kaercher said the meeting was for the sharing of information. The commissioners had no prior notice themselves that the meeting would occur, and were not taking a vote, he added.
He added that had they known what would be discussed, they may have decided to postpone and post notice, but he said that because they did not vote, no public notice was required.
"We feel we were 100 percent within our law and our policy," Kaercher said.
Meloy said the commissioners should have said: "Thanks for stopping by, come back in two days." Exceptions, he said, are made in emergencies.
The Freedom of Information Hotline can be reached at (406) 442-8670.