Joint dispatch projects get thumbs up
WILLMAR -- Calling it a "very significant event," state Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion praised the collaboration between Kandiyohi and Big Stone counties for sharing dispatch services for law enforcement and other emergency services.
"You underestimate what you've achieved here," Campion told the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners as it signed the formal agreement Tuesday to provide dispatch services for Big Stone County. "I congratulate you on what you've accomplished."
For the past two years the counties and state Department of Public Safety have been installing equipment, upgrading radio bandwidths and working the technological bugs out of the system that will allow Kandiyohi County dispatchers to take 911 calls for Big Stone County.
A test run of the system was scheduled to take place Tuesday night.
The state provided a $75,000 grant to help fund the project.
"The state was a big partner in this," said Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog.
He also praised County Communications Director Stacey "Ace" Bonnema for coordinating the project -- a task that started in 2007.
Campion said many counties have discussed implementing cooperative dispatching systems, but the sheriff's departments from Kandiyohi County and Big Stone were the ones with the "courage" to step forward.
"They are leaders in the entire state," he said, noting that other counties will be seeking their advice as more cooperative efforts are formed.
Dispatchers in Willmar will take 911 calls and then communicate with agencies in Big Stone County including the sheriff and city police, fire and ambulance departments.
The two counties have already been using the same records management system, and Big Stone County deputies have laptops in their squad cars and are able to access and share information directly with Kandiyohi County deputies. The system also extends into South Dakota, said Hartog, which enhances law enforcement's ability to track criminals across the state line.
Eventually Kandiyohi County will also take over administrative calls for Big Stone County.
With a shrinking population that's currently at about 5,300, Big Stone County Sheriff John Haukos said residents there are "taxed to their capacity" and can't afford the type of dispatch service they want, including dispatchers with emergency medical training, which Kandiyohi County has.
"The best bang for our buck is here with Kandiyohi County," Haukos told the Kandiyohi County Commissioners.
Big Stone County doesn't have the volume of 911 calls "to keep ourselves sharp," Haukos said.
Some residents are concerned about having dispatchers located an hour away, but when it comes to communications, "distance doesn't mean anything anymore," he said.
Haukos praised the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Department for being "extremely cordial and extremely helpful."
Haukos also delivered a thank-you from the Big Stone County Commissioners who also approved the contract Tuesday morning.
"We feel the same way," said Dennis Peterson, chairman of the Kandiyohi County Board.
Under the two-year contract, Kandiyohi County will be paid $110,000 a year to take 911 calls for Big Stone County. When it eventually answers administrative calls, the rate will be $6.30 an hour.
Hartog said the contract will provide enough revenue to allow Kandiyohi County to eventually hire another dispatcher to ensure that the safety of Kandiyohi County residents is not jeopardized by taking on the additional calls for Big Stone County.