By Betty Bruner
Sept. 15, 2021
BELLE FOURCHE-Representatives from Butte and Meade County met in the Butte County Commissioners’ Room to discuss possible changes to Butte County dispatch. Sheriff Fred Lamphere headed the parley between the two counties.
Sheriff Ron Merwin was the main spokesperson for Meade County, along with Meade County Commissioners Ted Seaman and Rod Bradley.
“Where can we save money?” asked Sheriff Lamphere. He continued by saying that it hits emotions of what the county is going to lose and what is gained.
He went on to say, “We are responsible for our citizens. We serve the people here.”
Presently, the call volume in Butte County is now 50-50 with the City of Belle Fourche. Part of the question of combining includes Belle Fourche, as they share the use of the dispatch center in the county courthouse.
Butte County Commissioner Stan Harms wondered what the city council thinks about combining and how Belle Fourche is going to be served.
“What is Belle Fourche city’s position?” he asked Belle Fourche Mayor Randy Schmidt.
Schmidt replied that it was hard to decide because if the City loses the dispatch, it can’t get dispatch back. He wants numbers to show to the common council members.
“It’s important that Belle Fourche is going to be served,” he said.
It’s smart to combine according to Butte County Commissioner Stan Harms, but he wondered what kind of say-so would Butte County have. He asked if there would be a combined board.
Meade County Commissioner Rod Bradley said that it would be important to centralize so that upgrades, etc. could be focused on.
“We have an obligation to provide service,” he said.
Sheriff Merwin explained that in Meade County, the sheriff oversees the budget along with dispatch and county commissioners. He pointed out that budgets are tough and the decision to combine would make financial sense. Technology would make it possible to service the entire two county area.
“It comes down to dollars and cents,” he said.
The State continues to mandate upgrades that can be costly to a county. Because of upgrades to radios and other necessary technology, the 2022 Butte County Dispatch Budget has gone from $759,241 for 2021 to $802,992 proposed for 2022.
Combining the two dispatches could bring a savings because 911 funds could be used more efficiently.
Meade County Commissioner Rod Bradley said that the Meade County budget is also very tight, but the obligation is take care of the people they service.
Commissioner Harms continued to question the governing of having dispatch at Meade County. Sheriff Merwin sustained the idea that an equitable partnership could be worked out. Following Commissioner Harms suggestion he agreed that a leader board be established to oversee the combined dispatch. But he said that it is very important that employees have one employer and that they understand Meade County is their employer.
“We will get along as best we can,” said Seaman.
The question of employees also was a topic for discussion as Vicki Greenwood, Butte County Dispatch Coordinator, described that Butte County presently has seven employees and wondered if all the employees would be combined with Meade County. There are several long-term employees and the wage scale is higher in Butte County.
Sheriff Merwin said that Meade County would probably take on three more, but would have to see what the future would bring.
Sheriff Lamphere explained that it comes down to using the 911 funds that are available to the county. By combing the two counties, more 911 funds can be used to cover the costs of mandated upgrades. The 911 funds must be used first before any other budgeted money is spent.
“More strength will be going into the future [by combing],” he said.
He said it’s hard to envision five years from now and how the county will handle the cost of running dispatch.
Commissioner Seaman said that combining would offer the public savings. His goal has always been to save money and make an efficient government.
Belle Fourche Mayor Schmidt simply said he needed numbers to get back to the common council.
“We can’t do anything without numbers,” he said.
“We want to be close to the people, but it comes down to cost,” summed up Sheriff Lamphere.